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Full text of "Fighting France, from Dunkerque to Belfort"

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VOLUME III 

FIGHTING FRANCE 





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A French palisade. 



THE WAR ON ALL FRONTS 



FIGHTING FRANCE 



FROM DUNKERQUE TO BELPCHT 



BY 
EDITH WHARTON 

CHEVALIER OP THE LEGION OP HONOR 



ILLUSTRATED 



NEW YORK 

CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 

1917 



Copyright, 1915, by 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

The Look of Paris .«••.•••••>••. 1 

In Argonne ....,....» 43 

In Lorraine and the Vosges • •••••:•• 91 

In the North . . • A • . • > : ..••.••• 187 

In Alsace : . : • M • s >; >; •• k k • • 181 

The Tone op France a k ® b & a: • is &• ca • • 217 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

A French palisade Frontispiece 

FACING 
PAGE 

Sketch map of region around the Forest of Argonne 54 

Street covered with stones from shelled buildings . 98 

Mr. Liegeay in his dining-room 99 

Ruins of General Lyautey's house in Crevic . . . . 116 
A war grave 117 

One of the "bowels" ........ . - y y . . 142 

A pontoon bridge on the Yser ....... . . 143 

A typical trench in the dunes 166 

The colony of saints on a soldier's grave at Nieuport 167 

The Cloth Market at Nieuport 172 

A street at Nieuport >. • >. >: k • . 173 

A sand-bag trench in the north . • > s . H - A . . 178 



FIGHTING FRANCE 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 

(August, 1914 — February, 1915) 



AUGUST 

/^ N the 30th of July, 1914, motoring north 
^^ from Poitiers, we had lunched some- 
where by the roadside under apple-trees on 
the edge of a field. Other fields stretched 
away on our right and left to a border of 
woodland and a village steeple. All around 
was noonday quiet, and the sober disci- 
plined landscape which the traveller's mem- 
ory is apt to evoke as distinctively French. 
Sometimes, even to accustomed eyes, these 
ruled-off fields and compact grey villages 
seem merely flat and tame; at other mo- 
ments the sensitive imagination sees in 
every thrifty sod and even furrow the 
ceaseless vigilant attachment of genera- 
tions faithful to the soil. The particular bit 



4 FIGHTING FRANCE 

of landscape before us spoke in all its lines 
of that attachment. The air seemed full 
of the long murmur of human effort, the 
rhythm of oft-repeated tasks; the serenity 
of the scene smiled away the war rumours 
which had hung on us since morning. 

All day the sky had been banked with 
thunder-clouds, but by the time we reached 
Chartres, toward four o'clock, they had 
rolled away under the horizon, and the 
town was so saturated with sunlight that 
to pass into the cathedral was like entering 
the dense obscurity of a church in Spain. 
At first all detail was imperceptible: we 
were in a hollow night. Then, as the shad- 
ows gradually thinned and gathered them- 
selves up into pier and vault and ribbing, 
there burst out of them great sheets and 
showers of colour. Framed by such depths 
of darkness, and steeped in a blaze of mid- 
summer sun, the familiar windows seemed 
singularly remote and yet overpoweringly 
vivid. Now they widened into dark-shored 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 5 

pools splashed with sunset, now glittered 
and menaced like the shields of fighting 
angels. Some were cataracts of sapphires, 
others roses dropped from a saint's tunic, 
others great carven platters strewn with 
heavenly regalia, others the sails of galleons 
bound for the Purple Islands; and in the 
western wall the scattered fires of the rose- 
window hung like a constellation in an 
African night. When one dropped one's 
eyes from these ethereal harmonies, the 
dark masses of masonry below them, all 
veiled and muffled in a mist pricked by a 
few altar lights, seemed to symbolize the 
life on earth, with its shadows, its heavy 
distances and its little islands of illusion. 
All that a great cathedral can be, all the 
meanings it can express, all the tranquilliz- 
ing power it can breathe upon the soul, all 
the richness of detail it can fuse into a large 
utterance of strength and beauty, the ca- 
thedral of Chartres gave us in that per- 
fect hour. 



6 FIGHTING FRANCE 

It was sunset when we reached the gates 
of Paris. Under the heights of St. Cloud 
and Suresnes the reaches of the Seine 
trembled with the blue-pink lustre of an 
early Monet. The Bois lay about us in the 
stillness of a holiday evening, and the lawns 
of Bagatelle were as fresh as June. Below 
the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysees 
sloped downward in a sun-powdered haze 
to the mist of fountains and the ethereal 
obelisk; and the currents of summer life 
ebbed and flowed with a normal beat under 
the trees of the radiating avenues. The 
great city, so made for peace and art and 
all humanest graces, seemed to lie by her 
river-side like a princess guarded by the 
watchful giant of the Eiffel Tower. 

The next day the air was thundery with 
rumours. Nobody believed them, every- 
body repeated them. War ? Of course there 
couldn't be war ! The Cabinets, like naugh- 
ty children, were again dangling their feet 
over the edge; but the whole incalcula- 



THE LOOK OF PAHIS 7 

ble weight of things-as-they-were, of the 
daily necessary business of living, contin- 
ued calmly and convincingly to assert itself 
against the bandying of diplomatic words. 
Paris went on steadily about her mid- 
summer business of feeding, dressing, and 
amusing the great army of tourists who 
were the only invaders she had seen for 
nearly half a century. 

All the while, every one knew that other 
work was going on also. The whole fabric 
of the country's seemingly undisturbed 
routine was threaded with noiseless invis- 
ible currents of preparation, the sense of 
them was in the calm air as the sense of 
changing weather is in the balminess of a 
perfect afternoon. Paris counted the min- 
utes till the evening papers came. 

They said little or nothing except what 
every one was already declaring all over 
the country. "We don't want war — mens 
ilfcmt que cela jini**s ! " "This kind of thing 
has got to stop": tib*t wa*s the only phrase 



8 FIGHTING FRANCE 

one heard. If diplomacy could still arrest 
the war, so much the better: no one in 
France wanted it. All who spent the first 
days of August in Paris will testify to the 
agreement of feeling on that point. But 
if war had to come, then the country, and 
every heart in it, was ready. 

At the dressmaker's, the next morning, 
the tired fitters were preparing to leave 
for their usual holiday. They looked pale 
and anxious — decidedly, there was a new 
weight of apprehension in the air. And in 
the rue Royale, at the corner of the Place 
de la Concorde, a few people had stopped 
to look at a little strip of white paper against 
the wall of the Minis tere de la Marine. 
"General mobilization" they read — and 
an armed nation knows what that means. 
But the group about the paper was small 
and quiet. Passers by read the notice and 
went on. There were no cheers, no gesticula- 
tions: the dramatic sense of the race had 
already told them that the event was too 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 9 

great to be dramatized. Like a monstrous 
landslide it had fallen across the path of 
an orderly laborious nation, disrupting its 
routine, annihilating its industries, rending 
families apart, and burying under a heap 
of senseless ruin the patiently and painfully 
wrought machinery of civilization. . . 

That evening, in a restaurant of the rue 
Roy ale, we sat at a table in one of the 
open windows, abreast with the street, and 
saw the strange new crowds stream by. In 
an instant we were being shown what mo- 
bilization was — a huge break in the normal 
flow of traffic, like the sudden rupture of a 
dyke. The street was flooded by the tor- 
rent of people sweeping past us to the vari- 
ous railway stations. All were on foot, and 
carrying their luggage; for since dawn 
every cab and taxi and motor-omnibus 
had disappeared. The War Office had 
thrown out its drag-net and caught them 
all in. The crowd that passed our window 
was chiefly composed of conscripts, the 



10 FIGHTING FRANCE 

mobilisables of the first day, who were on 
the way to the station accompanied by 
their families and friends; but among them 
were little clusters of bewildered tourists, 
labouring along with bags and bundles, and 
watching their luggage pushed before them 
on hand-carts — puzzled inarticulate waifs 
caught in the cross-tides racing to a mael- 
strom. 

In the restaurant, the befrogged and red- 
coated band poured out patriotic music, 
and the intervals between the courses that 
so few waiters were left to serve were 
broken by the ever-recurring obligation to 
stand up for the Marseillaise, to stand up 
for God Save the King, to stand up for the 
Russian National Anthem, to stand up 
again for the Marseillaise. "Et dire que ce 
sont des Hongrois qui jouent tout celaf a 
humourist remarked from the pavement. 

As the evening wore on and the crowd 
about our window thickened, the loiterers 
outside began to join in the war-songs. 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 11 

"Allons, debout /" — and the loyal round 
begins again. "La chanson du depart!" is 
a frequent demand; and the chorus of 
spectators chimes in roundly. A sort of 
quiet humour was the note of the street. 
Down the rue Royale, toward the Made- 
leine, the bands of other restaurants were 
attracting other throngs, and martial re- 
frains were strung along the Boulevard like 
its garlands of arc-lights. It was a night of 
singing and acclamations, not boisterous, 
but gallant and determined. It was Paris 
badauderie at its best. 

Meanwhile, beyond the fringe of idlers 
the steady stream of conscripts still poured 
along. Wives and families trudged beside 
them, carrying all kinds of odd improvised 
bags and bundles. The impression disen- 
gaging itself from all this superficial con- 
fusion was that of a cheerful steadiness of 
spirit. The faces ceaselessly streaming by 
were serious but not sad; nor was there 
any air of bewilderment — the stare of 



12 FIGHTING FRANCE 

driven cattle. All these lads and young 
men seemed to know what they were about 
and why they were about it. The youngest 
of them looked suddenly grown up and 
responsible: they understood their stake in 
the job, and accepted it. 

The next day the army of midsummer 
travel was immobilized to let the other 
army move. No more wild rushes to the 
station, no more bribing of concierges, vain 
quests for invisible cabs, haggard hours of 
waiting in the queue at Cook's. No train 
stirred except to carry soldiers, and the 
civilians who had not bribed and jammed 
their way into a cranny of the thronged 
carriages leaving the first night could only 
creep back through the hot streets to their 
hotels and wait. Back they went, disap- 
pointed yet half-relieved, to the resound- 
ing emptiness of porterless halls, waiterless 
restaurants, motionless lifts: to the queer 
disjointed life of fashionable hotels sud- 
denly reduced to the intimacies and make- 



THE LOOK OF PAEIS 13 

shift of a Latin Quarter pension. Mean- 
while it was strange to watch the gradual 
paralysis of the city. As the motors, taxis, 
cabs and vans had vanished from the 
streets, so the lively little steamers had left 
the Seine. The canal -boats too were gone, 
or lay motionless: loading and unloading 
had ceased. Every great architectural open- 
ing framed an emptiness; all the endless 
avenues stretched away to desert distances. 
In the parks and gardens no one raked the 
paths or trimmed the borders. The foun- 
tains slept in their basins, the worried 
sparrows fluttered unfed, and vague dogs, 
shaken out of their daily habits, roamed 
un quietly, looking for familiar eyes. Paris, 
so intensely conscious yet so strangely en- 
tranced, seemed to have had curare in- 
jected into all her veins. 

The next day — the 2nd of August — 
from the terrace of the Hotel de Crillon 
one looked down on a first faint stir of re- 
turning life. Now and then a taxi-cab or 



14 FIGHTING FRANCE 

a private motor crossed the Place de la 
Concorde, carrying soldiers to the stations. 
Other conscripts, in detachments, tramped 
by on foot with bags and banners. One de- 
tachment stopped before the black-veiled 
statue of Strasbourg and laid a garland at 
her feet. In ordinary times this demon- 
stration would at once have attracted a 
crowd; but at the very moment when it 
might have been expected to provoke a 
patriotic outburst it excited no more at- 
tention than if one of the soldiers had 
turned aside to give a penny to a beggar. 
The people crossing the square did not 
even stop to look. The meaning of this ap- 
parent indifference was obvious. When an 
armed nation mobilizes, everybody is busy, 
and busy in a definite and pressing way. 
It is not only the fighters that mobilize: 
those who stay behind must do the same. 
For each French household, for each in- 
dividual man or woman in France, war 
means a complete reorganization of life. 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 15 

The detachment of conscripts, unnoticed, 
paid their tribute to the Cause and passed 
on. . . 

Looked back on from these sterner 
months those early days in Paris, in their 
setting of grave architecture and summer 
skies, wear the light of the ideal and the 
abstract. The sudden flaming up of na- 
tional life, the abeyance of every small 
and mean preoccupation, cleared the moral 
air as the streets had been cleared, and 
made the spectator feel as though he were 
reading a great poem on War rather than 
facing its realities. 

Something of this sense of exaltation 
seemed to penetrate the throngs who 
streamed up and down the Boulevards till 
late into the night. All wheeled traffic had 
ceased, except that of the rare taxi-cabs 
impressed to carry conscripts to the sta- 
tions; and the middle of the Boulevards 
was as thronged with foot-passengers as an 



16 FIGHTING FRANCE 

Italian market-place on a Sunday morn- 
ing. The vast tide swayed up and down 
at a slow pace, breaking now and then 
to make room for one of the volunteer 
"legions" which were forming at every cor- 
ner: Italian, Roumanian, South Ameri- 
can, North American, each headed by its 
national flag and hailed with cheering as 
it passed. But even the cheers were sober: 
Paris was not to be shaken out of her self- 
imposed serenity. One felt something no- 
bly conscious and voluntary in the mood 
of this quiet multitude. Yet it was a 
mixed throng, made up of every class, from 
the scum of the Exterior Boulevards to 
the cream of the fashionable restaurants. 
These people, only two days ago, had been 
leading a thousand different lives, in in- 
difference or in antagonism to each other, 
as alien as enemies across a frontier: now 
workers and idlers, thieves, beggars, saints, 
poets, drabs and sharpers, genuine people 
and showy shams, were all bumping up 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 17 

against each other in an instinctive com- 
munity of emotion. The "people," luckily, 
predominated; the faces of workers look 
best in such a crowd, and there were thou- 
sands of them, each illuminated and singled 
out by its magnesium-flash of passion. 

I remember especially the steady-browed 
faces of the women; and also the small but 
significant fact that every one of them had 
remembered to bring her dog. The biggest 
of these amiable companions had to take 
their chance of seeing what they could 
through the forest of human legs; but 
every one that was portable was snugly 
lodged in the bend of an elbow, and from 
this safe perch scores and scores of small 
serious muzzles, blunt or sharp, smooth or 
woolly, brown or grey or white or black 
or brindled, looked out on the scene with 
the quiet awareness of the Paris dog. It 
was certainly a good sign that they had not 
been forgotten that night. 



IS FIGHTING FRANCE 

II 

We had been shown, impressively, what 
it was to live through a mobilization ; now 
we were to learn that mobilization is only 
one of the concomitants of martial law, 
and that martial law is not comfortable to 
live under — at least till one gets used 
to it. 

At first its main purpose, to the neutral 
civilian, seemed certainly to be the way* 
ward pleasure of complicating his life; and 
in that line it excelled in the last refine- 
ments of ingenuity. Instructions began to 
shower on us after the lull of the first days: 
instructions as to what to do, and what 
not to do, in order to make our presence 
tolerable and our persons secure. In the 
first place, foreigners could not remain in 
France without satisfying the authorities 
as to their nationality and antecedents; 
and to do this necessitated repeated inef- 
fective visits to chanceries, consulates and 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 19 

police stations, each too densely thronged 
with flustered applicants to permit the en- 
trance of one more. Between these vain pil- 
grimages, the traveller impatient to leave 
had to toil on foot to distant railway sta- 
tions, from which he returned baffled by 
vague answers and disheartened by the 
declaration that tickets, when achievable, 
must also be vises by the police. There was 
a moment when it seemed that one's inmost 
thoughts had to have that unobtainable 
visa — to obtain which, more fruitless hours 
must be lived on grimy stairways between 
perspiring layers of fellow-aliens. Mean- 
while one's money was probably running 
short, and one must cable or telegraph for 
more. Ah — but cables and telegrams must 
be vises too — and even when they were, one 
got no guarantee that they would be sent ! 
Then one could not use code addresses, 
and the ridiculous number of words con- 
tained in a New York address seemed to 
multiply as the francs ia one's pock- 



20 FIGHTING FRANCE 

ets diminished. And when the cable was 
finally despatched it was either lost on the 
way, or reached its destination only to 
call forth, after anxious days, the disheart- 
ening response: "Impossible at present. 
Making every effort." It is fair to add 
that, tedious and even irritating as many 
of these transactions were, they were 
greatly eased by the sudden uniform good- 
nature of the French functionary, w T ho, 
for the first time, probably, in the long 
tradition of his line, broke through its 
fundamental rule and was kind. 

Luckily, too, these incessant comings 
and goings involved much walking of the 
beautiful idle summer streets, which grew 
idler and more beautiful each day. Never 
had such blue-grey softness of afternoon 
brooded over Paris, such sunsets turned 
the heights of the Trocadero into Dido's 
Carthage, never, above all, so rich a moon 
ripened through such perfect evenings. 
The Seine itself had no small share in this 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 21 

mysterious increase of the city's beauty. 
Released from all traffic, its hurried rip- 
ples smoothed themselves into long silken 
reaches in which quays and monuments at 
last saw their unbroken images. At night 
the fire-fly lights of the boats had van- 
ished, and the reflections of the street 
lamps were lengthened into streamers of 
red and gold and purple that slept on the 
calm current like fluted water- weeds. Then 
the moon rose and took possession of the 
city, purifying it of all accidents, calming 
and enlarging it and giving it back its 
ideal lines of strength and repose. There 
was something strangely moving in this 
new Paris of the August evenings, so ex- 
posed yet so serene, as though her very 
beauty shielded her. 

So, gradually, we fell into the habit of 
living under martial law. After the first 
days of flustered adjustment the personal 
inconveniences were so few that one felt 



22 FIGHTING FRANCE 

almost ashamed of their not being more, 
of not being called on to contribute some 
greater sacrifice of comfort to the Cause. 
Within the first week over two thirds of 
the shops had closed — the greater num- 
ber bearing on their shuttered windows 
the notice "Pour cause de mobilisation," 
which showed that the "patron" and staff 
were at the front. But enough remained 
open to satisfy every ordinary want, and 
the closing of the others served to prove 
how much one could do without. Provi- 
sions were as cheap and plentiful as ever, 
though for a while it was easier to buy 
food than to have it cooked. The restau- 
rants were closing rapidly, and one often 
had to wander a long way for a meal, and 
wait a longer time to get it. A few hotels 
still carried on a halting life, galvanized 
by an occasional inrush of travel from 
Belgium and Germany; but most of them 
had closed or were being hastily trans- 
formed into hospitals. 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 23 

The signs over these hotel doors first 
disturbed the dreaming harmony of Paris. 
In a night, as it seemed, the whole city 
was hung with Red Crosses. Every other 
building showed the red and white band 
across its front, with "Ouvroir" or "Ho- 
pital" beneath; there was something sin- 
ister in these preparations for horrors in 
which one could not yet believe, in the 
making of bandages for limbs yet sound 
and whole, the spreading of pillows for 
heads yet carried high. But insist as they 
would on the woe to come, these warning 
signs did not deeply stir the trance of 
Paris. The first days of the war were full 
of a kind of unrealizing confidence, not 
boastful or fatuous, yet as different as 
possible from the clear-headed tenacity of 
purpose that the experience of the next 
few months was to develop. It is hard to 
evoke, without seeming to exaggerate it, 
that mood of early August: the assurance, 
the balance, the kind of smiling fatalism 



24 FIGHTING FRANCE 

with which Paris moved to her task. It is 
not impossible that the beauty of the sea- 
son and the silence of the city may have 
helped to produce this mood. War, the 
shrieking fury, had announced herself by 
a great wave of stillness. Never was desert 
hush more complete: the silence of a street 
is always so much deeper than the silence 
of wood or field. 

The heaviness of the August air intensi- 
fied this impression of suspended life. The 
days were dumb enough; but at night 
the hush became acute. In the quarter I 
inhabit, always deserted in summer, the 
shuttered streets were mute as catacombs, 
and the faintest pin-prick of noise seemed 
to tear a rent in a black pall of silence. I 
could hear the tired tap of a lame hoof 
half a mile away, and the tread of the 
policeman guarding the Embassy across 
the street beat against the pavement like 
a series of detonations. Even the varie- 
gated noises of the city's waking-up had 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 25 

ceased. If any sweepers, scavengers or 
rag-pickers still plied their trades they did 
it as secretly as ghosts. I remember one 
morning being roused out of a deep sleep 
by a sudden explosion of noise in my 
room. I sat up with a start, and found I 
had been waked by a low-voiced exchange 
of "Bonjours" in the street. . . 

Another fact that kept the reality of 
war from Paris was the curious absence of 
troops in the streets. After the first rush 
of conscripts hurrying to their military 
bases it might have been imagined that 
the reign of peace had set in. While smaller 
cities were swarming with soldiers no glit- 
ter of arms was reflected in the empty 
avenues of the capital, no military music 
sounded through them. Paris scorned all 
show of war, and fed the patriotism of 
her children on the mere sight of her beauty. 
It was enough. 

Even when the news of the first ephem- 
eral successes in Alsace began to come in, 



26 FIGHTING FRANCE 

the Parisians did not swerve from their 
even gait. The newsboys did all the shout- 
ing — and even theirs was presently si- 
lenced by decree. It seemed as though it 
had been unanimously, instinctively de- 
cided that the Paris of 1914 should in no 
respect resemble the Paris of 1870, and as 
though this resolution had passed at birth 
into the blood of millions born since that 
fatal date, and ignorant of its bitter les- 
son. The unanimity of self-restraint was 
the notable characteristic of this people 
suddenly plunged into an unsought and 
unexpected war. At first their steadiness 
of spirit might have passed for the bewil- 
derment of a generation born and bred in 
peace, which did not yet understand what 
war implied. But it is precisely on such a 
mood that easy triumphs might have been 
supposed to have the most disturbing ef- 
fect. It was the crowd in the street that 
shouted "A Berlin !" in 1870; now the 
crowd in the street continued to mind its 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 27 

own business, in spite of showers of extras 
and too-sanguine bulletins. 

I remember the morning when our 
butcher's boy brought the news that the 
first German flag had been hung out on 
the balcony of the Ministry of War. Now, 
I thought, the Latin will boil over ! And I 
wanted to be there to see. I hurried down 
the quiet rue de Martignac, turned the 
corner of the Place Sainte Clotilde, and 
came on an orderly crowd filling the street 
before the Ministry of War. The crowd 
was so orderly that the few pacific ges- 
tures of the police easily cleared a way 
for passing cabs, and for the military mo- 
tors perpetually dashing up. It was com- 
posed of all classes, and there were many 
family groups, with little boys straddling 
their mothers' shoulders, or lifted up by 
the policemen when they were too heavy 
for their mothers. It is safe to say that 
there was hardly a man or woman of that 
crowd who had not a soldier at the front, 



28 FIGHTING FRANCE 

and there before them hung the enemy's 
first flag — a splendid silk flag, white and 
black and crimson, and embroidered in 
gold. It was the flag of an Alsatian regi- 
ment — a regiment of Prussianized Alsace. 
It symbolized all they most abhorred in 
the whole abhorrent job that lay ahead of 
them; it symbolized also their finest ar- 
dour and their noblest hate, and the rea- 
son why, if every other reason failed, 
France could never lay down arms till the 
last of such flags was low. And there they 
stood and looked at it, not dully or un- 
comprehendingly, but consciously, advis- 
edly, and in silence: as if already foreseeing 
all it would cost to keep that flag and add 
to it others like it: foreseeing the cost and 
accepting it. There seemed to be men's 
hearts even in the children of that crowd, 
and in the mothers whose weak arms held 
them up. So they gazed and went on, and 
made way for others like them, who gazed 
in their turn and went on too. All dav the 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 29 

crowd renewed itself, and it was always 
the same crowd, intent and understanding 
and silent, who looked steadily at the flag, 
and knew what its being there meant. 
That, in August, was the look of Paris. 

in 

FEBRUARY 

February dusk on the Seine. The boats 
are plying again, but they stop at night- 
fall, and the river is inky-smooth, with the 
same long weed-like reflections as in Au- 
gust. Only the reflections are fewer and 
paler: bright lights are muffled everywhere. 
The line of the quays is scarcely discerni- 
ble, and the heights of the Trocadero are 
lost in the blur of night, which presently 
effaces even the firm tower-tops of Notre- 
Dame. Down the damp pavements only a 
few street lamps throw their watery zig- 
zags. The shops are shut, and the windows 
above them thickly curtained. The faces 
of the houses are all blind. 



30 FIGHTING FRANCE 

In the narrow streets of the Rive Gauche 
the darkness is even deeper, and the few 
scattered lights in courts or "cites" cre- 
ate effects of Piranesi-like mystery. The 
gleam of the chestnut-roaster's brazier at 
a street corner deepens the sense of an old 
adventurous Italy, and the darkness be- 
yond seems full of cloaks and conspiracies. 
I turn, on my way home, into an empty 
street between high garden walls, with a 
single light showing far off at its farther 
end. Not a soul is in sight between me 
and that light: my steps echo endlessly in 
the silence. Presently a dim figure comes 
around the corner ahead of me. Man or 
woman? Impossible to tell till I overtake 
it. The February fog deepens the darkness, 
and the faces one passes are indistinguish- 
able. As for the numbers of the houses, no 
one thinks of looking for them. If you 
know the quarter you count doors from 
the corner, or try to puzzle out the familiar 
outline of a balcony or a pediment; if you 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 31 

are in a strange street, you must ask at the 
nearest tobacconist's — for, as for finding 
a policeman, a yard off you couldn't tell 
him from your grandmother ! 

Such, after six months of war, are the 
nights of Paris; the days are less remark- 
able and less romantic. 

Almost all the early flush and shiver of 
romance is gone; or so at least it seems to 
those who have watched the gradual re- 
vival of life. It may appear otherwise to 
observers from other countries, even from 
those involved in the war. After London, 
with all her theatres open, and her ma- 
chinery of amusement almost unimpaired, 
Paris no doubt seems like a city on whom 
great issues weigh. But to those who lived 
through that first sunlit silent month the 
streets to-day show an almost normal ac- 
tivity. The vanishing of all the motor- 
buses, and of the huge lumbering com- 
mercial vans, leaves many a forgotten 
perspective open and reveals many a lost 



32 FIGHTING FRANCE 

grace of architecture; but the taxi-cabs 
and private motors are almost as abun- 
dant as in peace-time, and the peril of 
pedestrianism is kept at its normal pitch 
by the incessant dashing to and fro of 
those unrivalled engines of destruction, 
the hospital and War Office motors. Many 
shops have reopened, a few theatres are 
tentatively producing patriotic drama or 
mixed programmes seasoned with senti- 
ment and mirth, and the cinema again un- 
rolls its eventful kilometres. 

For a while, in September and October, 
the streets were made picturesque by the 
coming and going of English soldiery, and 
the aggressive flourish of British military 
motors. Then the fresh faces and smart 
uniforms disappeared, and now the near- 
est approach to "militarism" which Paris 
offers to the casual sight-seer is the occa- 
sional drilling of a handful of piou-pious 
on the muddy reaches of the Place des 
Invalides. But there is another army in 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 33 

Paris. Its first detachments came months 
ago, in the dark September days — lamen- 
table rear-guard of the Allies' retreat on 
Paris. Since then its numbers have grown 
and grown, its dingy streams have per- 
colated through all the currents of Paris 
life, so that wherever one goes, in every 
quarter and at every hour, among the 
busy confident strongly-stepping Parisians 
one sees these other people, dazed and slowly 
moving — men and women with sordid 
bundles on their backs, shuffling along 
hesitatingly in their tattered shoes, chil- 
dren dragging at their hands and tired- 
out babies pressed against their shoulders: 
the great army of the Refugees. Their faces 
are unmistakable and unforgettable. No one 
who has ever caught that stare of dumb 
bewilderment — or that other look of con- 
centrated horror, full of the reflection of 
flames and ruins — can shake off the ob- 
session of the Refugees. The look in their 
eyes is part of the look of Paris. It is the 



34 FIGHTING FRANCE 

dark shadow on the brightness of the face 
she turns to the enemy. These poor peo- 
ple cannot look across the borders to even- 
tual triumph. They belong mostly to a 
class whose knowledge of the world's af- 
fairs is measured by the shadow of their 
village steeple. They are no more curious 
of the laws of causation than the thou- 
sands overwhelmed at Avezzano. They 
were ploughing and sowing, spinning and 
weaving and minding their business, when 
suddenly a great darkness full of fire and 
blood came down on them. And now they 
are here, in a strange country, among un- 
familiar faces and new ways, with nothing 
left to them in the world but the memory 
of burning homes and massacred children 
and young men dragged to slavery, of 
infants torn from their mothers, old men 
trampled by drunken heels and priests 
slain while they prayed beside the dying. 
These are the people who stand in hundreds 
every day outside the doors of the shelters 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 35 

improvised to rescue them, and who re- 
ceive, in return for the loss of everything 
that makes life sweet, or intelligible, or at 
least endurable, a cot in a dormitory, a 
meal-ticket — and perhaps, on lucky days, 
a pair of shoes. . . 

What are Parisians doing meanwhile? 
For one thing — and the sign is a good one 
— they are refilling the shops, and es- 
pecially, of course, the great "department 
stores." In the early war days there was 
no stranger sight than those deserted pal- 
aces, where one strayed between miles of 
unpurchased wares in quest of vanished 
salesmen. A few clerks, of course, were 
left: enough, one would have thought, for 
the rare purchasers who disturbed their 
meditations. But the few there were did 
not care to be disturbed: they lurked be- 
hind their walls of sheeting, their bastions 
of flannelette, as if ashamed to be discov- 
ered. And when one had coaxed them out 
they went through the necessary gestures 



36 FIGHTING FRANCE 

automatically, as if mournfully wonder- 
ing that any one should care to buy. I 
remember once, at the Louvre, seeing the 
whole force of a " department," including 
the salesman I was trying to cajole into 
showing me some medicated gauze, desert 
their posts simultaneously to gather about 
a motor-cyclist in a muddy uniform who 
had dropped in to see his pals with tales 
from the front. But after six months the 
pressure of normal appetites has begun to 
reassert itself — and to shop is one of the 
normal appetites of woman. I say "shop" 
instead of buy, to distinguish between the 
dull purchase of necessities and the volup- 
tuousness of acquiring things one might 
do without. It is evident that many of the 
thousands now righting their way into the 
great shops must be indulging in the latter 
delight. At a moment when real wants 
are reduced to a minimum, how else ac- 
count for the congestion of the department 
store? Even allowing for the immense, the 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 37 

perpetual buying of supplies for hospitals 
and work-rooms, the incessant stoking-up 
of the innumerable centres of charitable 
production, there is no explanation of the 
crowding of the other departments except 
the fact that woman, however valiant, 
however tried, however suffering and how- 
ever self-denying, must eventually, in the 
long run, and at whatever cost to her 
pocket and her ideals, begin to shop again. 
She has renounced the theatre, she denies 
herself the tea-rooms, she goes apologetic- 
ally and furtively (and economically) to 
concerts — but the swinging doors of the 
department stores suck her irresistibly into 
their quicksand of remnants and reductions. 
No one, in this respect, would wish the 
look of Paris to be changed. It is a good 
sign to see the crowds pouring into the 
shops again, even though the sight is less 
interesting than that of the other crowds 
streaming daily — and on Sundays in im- 
mensely augmented numbers — across the 



38 FIGHTING FRANCE 

Pont Alexandre III to the great court of 
the Invalides where the German trophies 
are displayed. Here the heart of France 
beats with a richer blood, and something 
of its glow passes into foreign veins as one 
watches the perpetually renewed throngs 
face to face with the long triple row of 
German guns. There are few in those 
throngs to whom one of the deadly pack 
has not dealt a blow; there are personal 
losses, lacerating memories, bound up with 
the sight of all those evil engines. But 
personal sorrow is the sentiment least 
visible in the look of Paris. It is not fanci- 
ful to say that the Parisian face, after six 
months of trial, has acquired a new char- 
acter. The change seems to have affected 
the very stuff it is moulded of, as though 
the long ordeal had hardened the poor 
human clay into some dense commemora- 
tive substance. I often pass in the street 
women whose faces look like memorial 
medals — idealized images of what they 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 39 

were in the flesh. And the masks of some 
of the men — those queer tormented Gal- 
lic masks, crushed-in and squat and a 
little satyr-like — look like the bronzes of 
the Naples Museum, burnt and twisted 
from their baptism of fire. But none of 
these faces reveals a personal preoccupa- 
tion: they are looking, one and all, at 
France erect on her borders. Even the 
women who are comparing different widths 
of Valenciennes at the lace-counter all have 
something of that vision in their eyes — 
or else one does not see the ones who 
haven't. 

It is still true of Paris that she has not 
the air of a capital in arms. There are as 
few troops to be seen as ever, and but for 
the coming and going of the orderlies at- 
tached to the War Office and the Military 
Government, and the sprinkling of uni- 
forms about the doors of barracks, there 
would be no sign of war in the streets — 
no sign, that is, except the presence of the 



40 FIGHTING FRANCE 

wounded. It is only lately that they have 
begun to appear, for in the early months 
of the war they were not sent to Paris, 
and the splendidly appointed hospitals of 
the capital stood almost empty, while 
others, all over the country, were over- 
crowded. The motives for this disposal of 
the wounded have been much speculated 
upon and variously explained: one of its 
results may have been the maintaining 
in Paris of the extraordinary moral health 
which has given its tone to the whole 
country, and which is now sound and 
strong enough to face the sight of any 
misery. 

And miseries enough it has to face. Day 
by day the limping figures grow more 
numerous on the pavement, the pale band- 
aged heads more frequent in passing car- 
riages. In the stalls at the theatres and 
concerts there are many uniforms; and 
their wearers usually have to wait till the 
hall is emptied before they hobble out on 



THE LOOK OF PARIS 41 

a supporting arm. Most of them are very 
young, and it is the expression of their 
faces which I should like to picture and 
interpret as being the very essence of what 
I have called the look of Paris. They are 
grave, these young faces: one hears a 
great deal of the gaiety in the trenches, 
but the wounded are not gay. Neither are 
they sad, however. They are calm, medi- 
tative, strangely purified and matured. It 
is as though their great experience had 
purged them of pettiness, meanness and fri- 
volity, burning them down to the bare 
bones of character, the fundamental sub- 
stance of the soul, and shaping that sub- 
stance into something so strong and finely 
tempered that for a long time to come 
Paris will not care to wear any look un- 
worthy of the look on their faces. 



IN ARGONNE 



IN ARGONNE 



'"r^HE permission to visit a few ambu- 
•*• lances and evacuation hospitals be- 
hind the lines gave me, at the end of 
February, my first sight of War. 

Paris is no longer included in the mili- 
tary zone, either in fact or in appearance. 
Though it is still manifestly under the 
war-cloud, its air of reviving activity pro- 
duces the illusion that the menace which 
casts that cloud is far off not only in dis- 
tance but in time. Paris, a few months ago 
so alive to the nearness of the enemy, 
seems to have grown completely oblivious 
of that nearness; and it is startling, not 
more than twenty miles from the gates, 
to pass from such an atmosphere of work- 
aday security to the imminent sense of 
war. 

45 



46 FIGHTING FRANCE 

Going eastward, one begins to feel the 
change just beyond Meaux. Between that 
quiet episcopal city and the hill-town of 
Montmirail, some forty miles farther east, 
there are no sensational evidences of the 
great conflict of September — only, here 
and there, in an unploughed field, or among 
the fresh brown furrows, a little mound 
with a wooden cross and a wreath on it. 
Nevertheless, one begins to perceive, by 
certain negative signs, that one is already 
in another world. On the cold February 
day when we turned out of Meaux and 
took the road to the Argonne, the change 
was chiefly shown by the curious absence 
of life in the villages through which we 
passed. Now and tiien a lonely ploughman 
and his team stood out against the sky, or 
a child and an old woman looked from a 
doorway; but many of the fields were fal- 
low and most of the doorways empty. We 
passed a few carts driven by peasants, 
a stray wood-cutter in a copse, a road- 



IN ARGONNE 47 

mender hammering at his stones; but al- 
ready the "civilian motor" had disap- 
peared, and all the dust-coloured cars dash- 
ing past us were marked with the Red 
Cross or the number of an army division. 
At every bridge and railway-crossing a 
sentinel, standing in the middle of the 
road with lifted rifle, stopped the motor 
and examined our papers. In this negative 
sphere there was hardly any other tangible 
proof of military rule; but with the descent 
of the first hill beyond Montmirail there 
came the positive feeling: This is war! 

Along the white road rippling away east- 
ward over the dimpled country the army 
motors were pouring by in endless lines, 
broken now and then by the dark mass of 
a tramping regiment or the clatter of a 
train of artillery. In the intervals between 
these waves of military traffic we had the 
road to ourselves, except for the flashing 
past of despatch-bearers on motor-cycles 
and of hideously hooting little motors 



48 FIGHTING FRANCE 

carrying goggled officers in goat-skins and 
woollen helmets. 

The villages along the road all seemed 
empty — not figuratively but literally 
empty. None of them has suffered from 
the German invasion, save by the destruc- 
tion, here and there, of a single house on 
which some random malice has wreaked 
itself; but since the general flight in Sep- 
tember all have remained abandoned, or 
are provisionally occupied by troops, and 
the rich country between Montmirail and 
Chalons is a desert. 

The first sight of Chalons is extraordi- 
narily exhilarating. The old town lying so 
pleasantly between canal and river is the 
Head-quarters of an army — not of a corps 
or of a division, but of a whole army — 
and the network of grey provincial streets 
about the Romanesque towers of Notre 
Dame rustles with the movement of war. 
The square before the principal hotel — 
the incomparably named " Haute Mere- 



IN ARGONNE 49 

Dieu" — is as vivid a sight as any scene 
of modern war can be. Rows of grey motor- 
lorries and omnibuses do not lend them- 
selves to as happy groupings as a de- 
tachment of cavalry, and spitting and 
spurting motor-cycles and "torpedo" racers 
are no substitute for the glitter of helmets 
and the curvetting of chargers; but once 
the eye has adapted itself to the ugly lines 
and the neutral tints of the new warfare, 
the scene in that crowded clattering square 
becomes positively brilliant. It is a vision 
of one of the central functions of a great 
war, in all its concentrated energy, without 
the saddening suggestions of what, on the 
distant periphery, that energy is daily and 
hourly resulting in. Yet even here such 
suggestions are never long out of sight; 
for one cannot pass through Chalons with- 
out meeting, on their way from the station, 
a long line of "eclopes" — the unwounded 
but battered, shattered, frost-bitten, deaf- 
ened and half-paralyzed wreckage of the 



50 FIGHTING FRANCE 

awful struggle. These poor wretches, in 
their thousands, are daily shipped back 
from the front to rest and be restored; 
and it is a grim sight to watch them limp- 
ing by, and to meet the dazed stare of 
eyes that have seen what one dare not 
picture. 

If one could think away the "eclopes" 
in the streets and the wounded in the hos- 
pitals, Chalons would be an invigorating 
spectacle. When we drove up to the hotel 
even the grey motors and the sober uni- 
forms seemed to sparkle under the cold 
sky. The continual coming and going of 
alert and busy messengers, the riding up 
of officers (for some still ride !) , the arrival 
of much-decorated military personages in 
luxurious motors, the hurrying to and fro 
of orderlies, the perpetual depleting and 
refilling of the long rows of grey vans 
across the square, the movements of Red 
Cross ambulances and the passing of de- 
tachments for the front, all these are sights 



PUBLIC L!BP 



IN ARGONNE 51 

that the pacific stranger could forever 
gape at. And in the hotel, what a clatter 
of swords, what a piling up of fur coats 
and haversacks, what a grouping of bronzed 
energetic heads about the packed tables 
in the restaurant ! It is not easy for civil- 
ians to get to Chalons, and almost every 
table is occupied by officers and soldiers 
— for, once off duty, there seems to be no 
rank distinction in this happy democratic 
army, and the simple private, if he chooses 
to treat himself to the excellent fare of 
the Haute Mere-Dieu, has as good a right 
to it as his colonel. 

The scene in the restaurant is inexhausti- 
bly interesting. The mere attempt to puz- 
zle out the different uniforms is absorbing. 
A week's experience near the front con- 
vinces me that no two uniforms in the 
French army are alike either in colour or 
in cut. Within the last two years the ques- 
tion of colour has greatly preoccupied the 
French military authorities, who have been 



52 FIGHTING FRANCE 

seeking an invisible blue; and the range 
of their experiments is proved by the ex- 
traordinary variety of shades of blue, rang- 
ing from a sort of greyish robin's-egg to 
the darkest navy, in which the army is 
clothed. The result attained is the con- 
viction that no blue is really inconspicu^ 
ous, and that some of the harsh new slaty 
tints are no less striking than the deeper 
shades they have superseded. But to this 
scale of experimental blues, other colours 
must be added: the poppy-red of the 
Spahis' tunics, and various other less famil- 
iar colours — grey, and a certain greenish 
khaki — the use of which is due to the 
fact that the cloth supply has given out 
and that all available materials are em- 
ployed. As for the differences in cut, the 
uniforms vary from the old tight tunic to 
the loose belted jacket copied from the 
English, and the emblems of the various 
arms and ranks embroidered on these 
diversified habits add a new element of 



IN ARGONNE 53 

perplexity. The aviator's wings, the motor- 
ist's wheel, and many of the newer sym- 
bols, are easily recognizable — but there 
are all the other arms, and the doctors 
and the stretcher-bearers, the sappers and 
miners, and heaven knows how many more 
ramifications of this great host which is 
really all the nation. 

The main interest of the scene, however, 
is that it shows almost as many types as 
uniforms, and that almost all the types 
are so good. One begins to understand (if 
one has failed to before) why the French 
say of themselves: "La France est une 
nation guerri&re" War is the greatest of 
paradoxes: the most senseless and disheart- 
ening of human retrogressions, and yet 
the stimulant of qualities of soul which, 
in every race, can seemingly find no other 
means of renewal. Everything depends, 
therefore, on the category of impulses that 
war excites in a people. Looking at the 
faces at ChAlons, one sees at once in which 



54 FIGHTING FRANCE 

sense the French are "une nation guer- 
riere." It is not too much to say that war 
has given beauty to faces that were inter- 
esting, humorous, acute, malicious, a hun- 
dred vivid and expressive things, but last 
and least of all beautiful. Almost all the 
faces about these crowded tables — young 
or old, plain or handsome, distinguished or 
average — have the same look of quiet 
authority: it is as though all "nervosity," 
fussiness, little personal oddities, mean- 
nesses and vulgarities, had been burnt 
away in a great flame of self -dedication. 
It is a wonderful example of the rapidity 
with which purpose models the human 
countenance. More than half of these men 
were probably doing dull or useless or un- 
important things till the first of last Au- 
gust; now each one of them, however small 
his job, is sharing in a great task, and 
knows it, and has been made over by 
knowing it. 

Our road on leaving Chalons continued 



56 FIGHTING FRANCE 

to run northeastward toward the hills of 
the Argonne. 

We passed through more deserted vil- 
lages, with soldiers lounging in the doors 
where old women should have sat with 
their distaffs, soldiers watering their horses 
in the village pond, soldiers cooking over 
gypsy fires in the farm-yards. In the 
patches of woodland along the road we 
came upon more soldiers, cutting dow T n 
pine saplings, chopping them into even 
lengths and loading them on hand-carts, 
with the green boughs piled on top. We 
soon saw to what use they were put, for 
at every cross-road or railway bridge a 
warm sentry-box of mud and straw and 
plaited pine-branches was plastered against 
a bank or tucked like a swallow's nest into 
a sheltered corner. A little farther on we 
began to come more and more frequently 
on big colonies of "Seventy-fives." Drawn 
up nose to nose, usually against a curtain 
of woodland, in a field at some distance 



IN ARGONNE 57 

from the road, and always attended by a 
cumbrous drove of motor- vans, they looked 
like giant gazelles feeding among elephants; 
and the stables of woven pine-boughs 
which stood near by might have been 
the huge huts of their herdsmen. 

The country between Marne and Meuse 
is one of the regions on which German 
fury spent itself most bestially during the 
abominable September days. Half way be- 
tween Chalons and Sainte Menehould we 
came on the first evidence of the invasion: 
the lamentable ruins of the village of Auve. 
These pleasant villages of the Aisne, with 
their one long street, their half-timbered 
houses and high-roofed granaries with es- 
paliered gable-ends, are all much of one 
pattern, and one can easily picture what 
Auve must have been as it looked out, 
in the blue September weather, above the 
ripening pears of its gardens to the crops 
in the valley and the large landscape be- 
yond. Now it is a mere waste of rubble 



58 FIGHTING FRANCE 

and cinders, not one threshold distinguish- 
able from another. We saw many other 
ruined villages after Auve, but this was the 
first, and perhaps for that reason one had 
there, most hauntingly, the vision of all 
the separate terrors, anguishes, uprootings 
and rendings apart involved in the destruc- 
tion of the obscurest of human communi- 
ties. The photographs on the walls, the 
twigs of withered box above the crucifixes, 
the old wedding-dresses in brass-clamped 
trunks, the bundles of letters laboriously 
written and as painfully deciphered, all 
the thousand and one bits of the past that 
give meaning and continuity to the pres- 
ent — of all that accumulated warmth 
nothing was left but a brick-heap and 
some twisted stove-pipes ! 

As we ran on toward Sainte Menehould 
the names on our map showed us that, 
just beyond the parallel range of hills six 
or seven miles to the north, the two armies 
lay interlocked. But we heard no cannon 



IN ARGONNE 59 

yet, and the first visible evidence of the 
nearness of the struggle was the encoun- 
ter, at a bend of the road, of a long line 
of grey-coated figures tramping toward 
us between the bayonets of their captors. 
They were a sturdy lot, this fresh "bag" 
from the hills, of a fine fighting age, and 
much less famished and war-worn than one 
could have wished. Their broad blond faces 
were meaningless, guarded, but neither de- 
fiant nor unhappy: they seemed none too 
sorry for their fate. 

Our pass from the General Head-quar- 
ters carried us to Sainte Menehould on 
the edge of the Argonne, where we had to 
apply to the Head-quarters of the division 
for a farther extension. The Staff are 
lodged in a house considerably the worse 
for German occupancy, where offices have 
been improvised by means of wooden 
hoardings, and where, sitting in a bare 
passage on a frayed damask sofa sur- 
mounted by theatrical posters and faced 



eo FIGHTING FRANCE 

by a bed with a plum-coloured counter- 
pane, we listened for a while to the jingle 
of telephones, the rat-tat of typewriters, 
the steady hum of dictation and the com- 
ing and going of hurried despatch-bearers 
and orderlies. The extension to the permit 
was presently delivered with the courteous 
request that we should push on to Verdun 
as fast as possible, as civilian motors were 
not wanted on the road that afternoon; 
and this request, coupled with the evident 
stir of activity at Head-quarters, gave us 
the impression that there must be a good 
deal happening beyond the low line of 
hills to the north. How much there was we 
were soon to know. 

We left Sainte Menehould at about 
eleven, and before twelve o'clock we were 
nearing a large village on a ridge from 
which the land swept away to right and 
left in ample reaches. The first glimpse of 
the outlying houses showed nothing un- 
usual; but presently the main street turned 



IN ARGONNE 61 

and dipped downward, and below &md 
beyond us lay a long stretch of ruins: the 
calcined remains of Clermont-en-Argonne, 
destroyed by the Germans on the 4th of 
September. The free and lofty situation of 
the little town — for it was really a good 
deal more than a village — makes its pres- 
ent state the more lamentable. One oaa 
see it from so far off, and through the torn 
traceries of its ruined church the eye 
travels over so lovely a stretch of country ! 
No doubt its beauty enriched the joy of 
wrecking it. 

At the farther end of what was once the 
main street another small knot of houses 
has survived. Chief among them is the 
Hospice for old men, where Sister Gabri- 
elle Rosnet, when the authorities of Cler- 
mont took to their heels, stayed behind 
to defend her charges, and where, ever 
since, she has nursed an undiminisliing 
stream of wounded from the eastern front. 
We found Soeur Rosnet, with her Sisters, 



6S FIGHTING FRANCE 

preparing the midday meal of her patients 
in the little kitchen of the Hospice: the 
kitchen which is also her dining-room and 
private office. She insisted on our finding 
time to share the filet and fried potatoes 
that were just being taken off the stove, 
and while we lunched she told us the story 
of the invasion — of the Hospice doors 
broken down "a coups de crosse' , and the 
grey officers bursting in with revolvers, 
and finding her there before them, in the 
big vaulted vestibule, "alone with my old 
men and my Sisters." Soeur Gabrielle 
Rosnet is a small round active woman, 
with a shrewd and ruddy face of the type 
that looks out calmly from the dark back- 
ground of certain Flemish pictures. Her 
blue eyes are full of warmth and humour, 
and she puts as much gaiety as wrath into 
her tale. She does not spare epithets in 
talking of "ces satanes Allemands" — these 
Sisters and nurses of the front have seen 
sights to dry up the last drop of senti- 



IN ARGONNE 63 

mental pity — but through all the horror 
of those fierce September days, with Cler- 
mont blazing about her and the helpless 
remnant of its inhabitants under the per- 
petual threat of massacre, she retained her 
sense of the little inevitable absurdities of 
life, such as her not knowing how to ad- 
dress the officer in command "because he 
was so tall that I couldn't see up to 
his shoulder-straps." — "Et Us etaient tous 
comme ga" she added, a sort of reluctant 
admiration in her eyes. 

A subordinate "good Sister" had just 
cleared the table and poured out our coffee 
when a woman came in to say, in a matter- 
of-fact tone, that there was hard fighting 
going on across the valley. She added 
calmly, as she dipped our plates into a 
tub, that an obus had just fallen a mile 
or two off, and that if we liked we could 
see the fighting from a garden over the 
way. It did not take us long to reach that 
garden ! Sceur Gabrielle showed the way, 



64 FIGHTING FRANCE 

bouncing up the stairs of a house across 
the street, and flying at her heels we came 
out on a grassy terrace full of soldiers. 

The cannon were booming without a 
pause, and seemingly so near that it was 
bewildering to look out across empty fields 
at a hillside that seemed like any other. 
But luckily somebody had a field-glass, and 
with its help a little corner of the battle 
of Vauquois was suddenly brought close 
to us — the rush of French infantry up 
the slopes, the feathery drift of French 
gun-smoke lower down, and, high up, on 
the wooded crest along the sky, the red 
lightnings and white puffs of the German 
artillery. Rap, rap, rap, went the answer- 
ing guns, as the troops swept up and dis- 
appeared into the fire-tongued wood; and 
we stood there dumbfounded at the acci- 
dent of having stumbled on this visible 
episode of the great subterranean struggle. 

Though Soeur Rosnet had seen too many 
such sights to be much moved, she was 



IN ARGONNE 65 

full of a lively curiosity, and stood beside 
us, squarely planted in the mud, holding 

■Li 

the field-glass to her eyes, or passing it 
laughingly about among the soldiers. But 
as we turned to go she said: "They 've sent 
us word to be ready for another four hun- 
dred to-night"; and the twinkle died out 
of her good eyes. 

Her expectations were to be dreadfully 
su* passed; for, as we learned a fortnight 
later from a three column communique, the 
scene we had assisted at was no less than 
the first act of the successful assault on the 
high-perched village of Vauquois, a point 
of the first importance to the Germans, 
since it masked their operations to the 
north of Varennes and commanded the 
railway by which, since September, they 
have been revictualling and reinforcing 
their army in the Argonne. Vauquois had 
been taken by them at the end of Septem- 
ber and, thanks to its strong position on 
a rocky spur, had been almost impregnably 



66 FIGHTING FRANCE 

fortified; but the attack we looked on at 
from the garden of Clermont, on Sunday, 
February 28th, carried the victorious French 
troops to the top of the ridge, and made 
them masters of a part of the village. 
Driven from it again that night, they were 
to retake it after a five days' struggle of 
exceptional violence and prodigal heroism, 
and are now securely established there in 
a position described as "of vital impor- 
tance to the operations." "But what it 
cost!" Sceur Gabrielle said, when we saw 
her again a few days later. 



ii 

The time had come to remember our 
promise and hurry away from Clermont; 
but a few miles farther our attention was 
arrested by the sight of the Red Cross 
over a village house. The house was little 
more than a hovel, the village — Blercourt 
it was called — a mere hamlet of scattered 



IN ARGONNE 67 

cottages and cow-stables: a place so easily 
overlooked that it seemed likely our sup- 
plies might be needed there. 

An orderly went to find the medecin-chef, 
and we waded after him through the mud 
to one after another of the cottages in 
which, with admirable ingenuity, he had 
managed to create out of next to nothing 
the indispensable requirements of a second- 
line ambulance: sterilizing and disinfect- 
ing appliances, a bandage-room, a phar- 
macy, a well-filled wood-shed, and a clean 
kitchen in which " tisanes" were brewing 
over a cheerful fire. A detachment of cav- 
alry was quartered in the village, which 
the trampling of hoofs had turned into a 
great morass, and as we picked our way 
from cottage to cottage in the doctor's 
wake he told us of the expedients to which 
he had been put to secure even the few 
hovels into which his patients were crowded. 
It was a complaint we were often to hear 
repeated along this line of the front, where 



68 FIGHTING FRANCE 

troops and wounded are packed in thou- 
sands into villages meant to house four or 
five hundred; and we admired the skill and 
devotion with which he had dealt with 
the difficulty, and managed to lodge his 
patients decently. 

We came back to the high-road, and he 
asked us if we should like to see the church. 
It was about three o'clock, and in the low 
porch the cure was ringing the bell for 
vespers. We pushed open the inner doors 
and went in. The church was without 
aisles, and down the nave stood four 
rows of wooden cots with brown blankets. 
In almost every one lay a soldier — the 
doctor's "worst cases" — few of them 
wounded, the greater number stricken with 
fever, bronchitis, frost-bite, pleurisy, or 
some other form of trench-sickness too 
severe to permit of their being carried 
farther from the front. One or two heads 
turned on the pillows as we entered, but 
for the most part the men did not move. 



IN ARGONNE 69 

The cure, meanwhile, passing around to 
the sacristy, had come out before the altar 
in his vestments, followed by a little white 
acolyte. A handful of women, probably the 
only "civil" inhabitants left, and some of 
the soldiers we had seen about the village, 
had entered the church and stood together 
between the rows of cots; and the service 
began. It was a sunless afternoon, and the 
picture was all in monastic shades of black 
and white and ashen grey: the sick under 
their earth-coloured blankets, their livid 
faces against the pillows, the black dresses 
of the women (they seemed all to be in 
mourning) and the silver haze floating out 
from the little acolyte's censer. The only 
light in the scene — the candle-gleams on 
the altar, and their reflection in the em- 
broideries of the cure's chasuble — were 
like a faint streak of sunset on the winter 
dusk. 

For a while the long Latin cadences 
sounded on through the church; but pres- 



70 FIGHTING FRANCE 

ently the cure took up in French the 
Canticle of the Sacred Heart, composed 
during the war of 1870, and the little con- 
gregation joined their trembling voices in 
the refrain: 

"Sauvez, sauvez la France, 
Ne Vabandonnez pas!" 

The reiterated appeal rose in a sob above 
the rows of bodies in the nave: "Sauvez, 
sauvez la France," the women wailed it 
near the altar, the soldiers took it up from 
the door in stronger tones; but the bodies 
in the cots never stirred, and more and 
more, as the day faded, the church looked 
like a quiet grave-yard in a battle-field. 

After we had left Sainte Menehould the 
sense of the nearness and all-pervading- 
ness of the war became even more vivid. 
Every road branching away to our left 
was a finger touching a red wound: Va- 
rennes, le Four de Paris, le Bois de la 
Grurie, were not more than eight or ten 



IN ARGONNE 71 

miles to the north. Along our own road the 
stream of motor-vans and the trains of 
ammunition grew longer and more fre- 
quent. Once we passed a long line of "Sev- 
enty-fives" going single file up a hillside, 
farther on we watched a big detachment 
of artillery galloping across a stretch of 
open country. The movement of supplies 
was continuous, and every village through 
which we passed swarmed with soldiers 
busy loading or unloading the big vans, or 
clustered about the commissariat motors 
while hams and quarters of beef were 
handed out. As we approached Verdun the 
cannonade had grown louder again; and 
when we reached the walls of the town and 
passed under the iron teeth of the port- 
cullis we felt ourselves in one of the last 
outposts of a mighty line of defense. The 
desolation of Verdun is as impressive as 
the feverish activity of Chalons. The civil 
population was evacuated in September, 
and only a small percentage have returned. 



72 FIGHTING FRANCE 

Nine-tenths of the shops are closed, and 
as the troops are nearly all in the trenches 
there is hardly any movement in the 
streets. 

The first duty of the traveller who has 
successfully passed the challenge of the 
sentinel at the gates is to climb the steep 
hill to the citadel at the top of the town. 
Here the military authorities inspect one's 
papers, and deliver a "permis de sejour" 
which must be verified by the police be- 
fore lodgings can be obtained. We found 
the principal hotel much less crowded than 
the Haute Mere-Dieu at Chalons, though 
many of the officers of the garrison mess 
there. The whole atmosphere of the place 
was different: silent, concentrated, passive. 
To the chance observer, Verdun appears 
to live only in its hospitals; and of these 
there are fourteen within the walls alone. 
As darkness fell, the streets became com- 
pletely deserted, and the cannonade seemed 
to grow nearer and more incessant. That 



IN ARGONNE 73 

first night the hush was so intense that 
every reverberation from the dark hills 
beyond the walls brought out in the mind 
its separate vision of destruction; and then, 
just as the strained imagination could bear 
no more, the thunder ceased. A moment 
later, in a court below my windows, a 
pigeon began to coo; and all night long the 
two sounds strangely alternated. . . 

On entering the gates, the first sight to 
attract us had been a colony of roughly- 
built bungalows scattered over the miry 
slopes of a little park adjoining the rail- 
way station, and surmounted by the sign: 
"Evacuation Hospital No. 6." The next 
morning we went to visit it. A part of the 
station buildings has been adapted to hos- ' 
pital use, and among them a great roofless 
hall, which the surgeon in charge has cov- 
ered in with canvas and divided down its 
length into a double row of tents. Each 
tent contains two wooden cots, scrupu- 
lously clean and raised high above the floor; 



74 FIGHTING FRANCE 

and the immense ward is warmed by a 
row of stoves down the central passage. 
In the bungalows across the road are beds 
for the patients who are to be kept for a 
time before being transferred to the hos- 
pitals in the town. In one bungalow an 
operating-room has been installed, in an- 
other are the bathing arrangements for 
the newcomers from the trenches. Every 
possible device for the relief of the wounded 
has been carefully thought out and intelli- 
gently applied by the surgeon in charge 
and the infirmiere major who indefatigably 
seconds him. Evacuation Hospital No. 6 
sprang up in an hour, almost, on the 
dreadful August day when four thousand 
wounded lay on stretchers between the 
railway station and the gate of the little 
park across the way; and it has gradually 
grown into the model of what such a hos- 
pital may become in skilful and devoted 
hands. 

Verdun has other excellent hospitals for 



IN ARGONNE 75 

the care of the severely wounded who 
cannot be sent farther from the front. 
Among them St. Nicolas, in a big airy 
building on the Meuse, is an example of 
a great French Military Hospital at its 
best; but I visited few others, for the 
main object of my journey was to get to 
some of the second-line ambulances be- 
yond the town. The first we went to was 
in a small village to the north of Verdun, 
not far from the enemy's lines at Cosen- 
voye, and was fairly representative of all 
the others. The dreary muddy village was 
crammed with troops, and the ambulance 
had been installed at haphazard in such 
houses as the military authorities could 
spare. The arrangements were primitive 
but clean, and even the dentist had set 
up his apparatus in one of the rooms. The 
men lay on mattresses or in wooden cots, 
and the rooms were heated by stoves. The 
great need, here as everywhere, was for 
blankets and clean underclothing; for the 



76 FIGHTING FRANCE 

wounded are brought in from the front 
encrusted with frozen mud, and usually 
without having washed or changed for 
weeks. There are no women nurses in these 
second-line ambulances, but all the army 
doctors we saw seemed intelligent, and 
anxious to do the best they could for their 
men in conditions of unusual hardship. 
The principal obstacle in their way is the 
over-crowded state of the villages. Thou- 
sands of soldiers are camped in all of them, 
in hygienic conditions that would be bad 
enough for men in health; and there is 
also a great need for light diet, since the 
hospital commissariat of the front appar- 
ently supplies no invalid foods, and men 
burning with fever have to be fed on meat 
and vegetables. 

In the afternoon we started out again 
in a snow-storm, over a desolate rolling 
country to the south of Verdun. The wind 
blew fiercely across the whitened slopes, 
and no one was in sight but the sentries 



IN ARGONNE 77 

marching up and down the railway lines, 
and an occasional cavalryman patrolling 
the lonely road. Nothing can exceed the 
mournfulness of this depopulated land: we 
might have been wandering over the wilds 
of Poland. We ran some twenty miles 
down the steel-grey Meuse to a village 
about four miles west of Les Sparges, the 
spot where, for weeks past, a desperate 
struggle had been going on. There must 
have been a lull in the fighting that day, 
for the cannon had ceased; but the scene 
at the point where we left the motor gave 
us the sense of being on the very edge of 
the conflict. The long straggling village lay 
on the river, and the trampling of cavalry 
and the hauling of guns had turned the 
land about it into a mud-flat. Before the 
primitive cottage where the doctor's office 
had been installed were the motors of the 
surgeon and the medical inspector who 
had accompanied us. Near by stood the 
usual flock of grey motor-vans, and all 



78 FIGHTING FRANCE 

about was the coming and going of cavalry 
remounts, the riding up of officers, the 
unloading of supplies, the incessant activ- 
ity of mud-splashed sergeants and men. 

The main ambulance was in a grange, 
of which the two stories had been parti- 
tioned off into wards. Under the cobwebby 
rafters the men lay in rows on clean pal- 
lets, and big stoves made the rooms dry 
and warm. But the great superiority of 
this ambulance was its nearness to a canal- 
boat which had been fitted up with hot 
douches. The boat was spotlessly clean, 
and each cabin was shut off by a gay cur- 
tain of red-flowered chintz. Those curtains 
must do almost as much as the hot water 
to make over the morale of the men: they 
were the most comforting sight of the day. 

Farther north, and on the other bank 
of the Meuse, lies another large village 
which has been turned into a colony of 
eclopes. Fifteen hundred sick or exhausted 
men are housed there — and there are no 



IN ARGONNE 79 

hot douches or chintz curtains to cheer 
them ! We were taken first to the church, 
a large featureless building at the head of 
the street. In the doorway our passage was 
obstructed by a mountain of damp straw 
which a gang of hostler-soldiers were pitch- 
forking out of the aisles. The interior of 
the church was dim and suffocating. Be- 
tween the pillars hung screens of plaited 
straw, forming little enclosures in each of 
which about a dozen sick men lay on more 
straw, without mattresses or blankets. No 
beds, no tables, no chairs, no washing ap- 
pliances — in their muddy clothes, as they 
come from the front, they are bedded down 
on the stone floor like cattle till they are 
well enough to go back to their job. It 
was a pitiful contrast to the little church 
at Blercourt, with the altar lights twin- 
kling above the clean beds; and one won- 
dered if, even so near the front, it had to 
be. 'The African village, we call it," one 
of our companions said with a laugh: but 



80 FIGHTING FRANCE 

the African village has blue sky over it, 
and a clear stream runs between its mud 
huts. 

We had been told at Sainte Menehould 
that, for military reasons, we must follow 
a more southerly direction on our return 
to Chalons; and when we left Verdun we 
took the road to Bar-le-Duc. It runs south- 
west over beautiful broken country, un- 
touched by war except for the fact that its 
villages, like all the others in this region, 
are either deserted or occupied by troops. 
As we left Verdun behind us the sound of 
the cannon grew fainter and died out, and 
we had the feeling that we were gradually 
passing beyond the flaming boundaries 
into a more normal world; but suddenly, 
at a cross-road, a sign-post snatched us 
back to war: St. Mihiel, 18 Kilometres. St. 
Mihiel, the danger-spot of the region, the 
weak joint in the armour ! There it lay, 
up that harmless-looking bye-road, not 
much more than ten miles away — a ten 



IN ARGONNE 81 

minutes' dash would have brought us into 
the thick of the grey coats and spiked hel- 
mets ! The shadow of that sign-post fol- 
lowed us for miles, darkening the landscape 
like the shadow from a racing storm-cloud. 

Bar-le-Duc seemed unaware of the cloud. 
The charming old town was in its normal 
state of provincial apathy: few soldiers 
were about, and here at last civilian life 
again predominated. After a few days on 
the edge of the war, in that intermediate 
region under its solemn spell, there is some- 
thing strangely lowering to the mood in 
the first sight of a busy unconscious com- 
munity. One looks instinctively, in the 
eyes of the passers by, for a reflection of 
that other vision, and feels diminished by 
contact with people going so indifferently 
about their business. 

A little way beyond Bar-le-Duc we came 
on another phase of the war- vision, for our 
route lay exactly in the track of the Au- 
gust invasion, and between Bar-le-Duc 



82 FIGHTING FRANCE 

and Vitry-le-Frangois the high-road is lined 
with ruined towns. The first we came to 
was Laimont, a large village wiped out as 
if a cyclone had beheaded it; then comes 
Revigny, a town of over two thousand in- 
habitants, less completely levelled because 
its houses were more solidly built, but a 
spectacle of more tragic desolation, with 
its wide streets winding between scorched 
and contorted fragments of masonry, bits 
of shop-fronts, handsome doorways, the 
colonnaded court of a public building. A 
few miles farther lies the most piteous of 
the group : the village of Heiltz-le-Maurupt, 
once pleasantly set in gardens and or- 
chards, now an ugly waste like the others, 
and with a little church so stripped and 
wounded and dishonoured that it lies there 
by the roadside like a human victim. 

In this part of the country, which is 
one of many cross-roads, we began to have 
unexpected difficulty in finding our way, 
for the names and distances on the mile- 



IN ARGONNE 83 

stones have all been effaced, the sign-posts 
thrown down and the enamelled plaques 
on the houses at the entrance to the vil- 
lages removed. One report has it that this 
precaution was taken by the inhabitants 
at the approach of the invading army, an- 
other that the Germans themselves de- 
molished the sign-posts and plastered over 
the mile-stones in order to paint on them 
misleading and encouraging distances. The 
result is extremely bewildering, for, all the 
villages being either in ruins or uninhab- 
ited, there is no one to question but the 
soldiers one meets, and their answer is 
almost invariably: 'We don't know — we 
don't belong here." One is in luck if one 
comes across a sentinel who knows the 
name of the village he is guarding. 

It was the strangest of sensations to 
find ourselves in a chartless wilderness 
within sixty or seventy miles of Paris, and 
to wander, as we did, for hours across a 
high heathery waste, with wide blue dis- 



84 FIGHTING FRANCE 

tances to north and south, and in all the 
scene not a landmark by means of which 
we could make a guess at our whereabouts. 
One of our haphazard turns at last brought 
us into a muddy bye-road with long lines 
of " Seventy -fives " ranged along its banks 
like grey ant-eaters in some monstrous 
menagerie. A little farther on we came to 
a bemired village swarming with artillery 
and cavalry, and found ourselves in the 
thick of an encampment just on the move. 
It seems improbable that we were meant 
to be there, for our arrival caused such 
surprise that no sentry remembered to 
challenge us, and obsequiously saluting 
sous-officiers instantly cleared a way for 
the motor. So, by a happy accident, we 
caught one more war-picture, all of ve- 
hement movement, as we passed out of 
the zone of war. 

We were still very distinctly in it on re- 
turning to Chalons, which, if it had seemed 
packed on our previous visit, was now 



IN ARGONNE 85 

quivering and cracking with fresh crowds. 
The stir about the fountain, in the square 
before the Haute Mere-Dieu, was more 
melodramatic than ever. Every one was 
in a hurry, every one booted and mud- 
splashed, and spurred or sworded or des- 
patch-bagged, or somehow labelled as a 
member of the huge military beehive. The 
privilege of telephoning and telegraphing 
being denied to civilians in the war-zone, 
it was ominous to arrive at night-fall on 
such a crowded scene, and we were not 
surprised to be told that there was not a 
room left at the Haute Mere-Dieu, and 
that even the sofas in the reading-room 
had been let for the night. At every other 
inn in the town we met with the same 
answer; and finally we decided to ask per- 
mission to go on as far as Epernay, about 
twelve miles off. At Head-quarters we were 
told that our request could not be granted. 
No motors are allowed to circulate after 
night-fall in the zone of war, and the 



86 FIGHTING FRANCE 

officer charged with the distribution of 
motor-permits pointed out that, even if 
an exception were made in our favour, 
we should probably be turned back by 
the first sentinel we met, only to find our- 
selves unable to re-enter Chalons without 
another permit ! This alternative was so 
alarming that we began to think ourselves 
relatively lucky to be on the right side of 
the gates; and we went back to the Haute 
Mere-Dieu to squeeze into a crowded cor- 
ner of the restaurant for dinner. The hope 
that some one might have suddenly left 
the hotel in the interval was not realized; 
but after dinner we learned from the land- 
lady that she had certain rooms perma- 
nently reserved for the use of the Staff, 
and that, as these rooms had not yet been 
called for that evening, we might possibly 
be allowed to occupy them for the night. 

At Chalons the Head-quarters are in 
the Prefecture, a coldly handsome build- 
ing of the eighteenth century, and there, 



IN ARGONNE 87 

in a majestic stone vestibule, beneath the 
gilded ramp of a great festal staircase, we 
waited in anxious suspense, among the or- 
derlies and estafettes, while our unusual 
request was considered. The result of the 
deliberation was an expression of regret: 
nothing could be done for us, as officers 
might at any moment arrive from the 
General Head-quarters and require the 
rooms. It was then past nine o'clock, and 
bitterly cold — and we began to wonder. 
Finally the polite officer who had been 
charged to dismiss us, moved to compas- 
sion at our plight, offered to give us a 
laissez-passer back to Paris. But Paris was 
about a hundred and twenty -five miles off, 
the night was dark, the cold was piercing 
— and at every cross-road and railway 
crossing a sentinel would have to be con- 
vinced of our right to go farther. We re- 
membered the warning given us earlier in 
the evening, and, declining the offer, went 
out again into the cold. And just then 



88 FIGHTING FRANCE 

chance took pity on us. In the restaurant 
we had run across a friend attached to the 
Staff, and now, meeting him again in the 
depth of our difficulty, we were told of 
lodgings to be found near by. He could 
not take us there, for it was past the 
hour when he had a right to be out, or 
we either, for that matter, since curfew 
sounds at nine at Chalons. But he told us 
how to find our way through the maze 
of little unlit streets about the Cathedral; 
standing there beside the motor, in the 
icy darkness of the deserted square, and 
whispering hastily, as he turned to leave 
us: "You ought not to be out so late; but 
the word tonight is Jena. When you give 
it to the chauffeur, be sure no sentinel 
overhears you." With that he was up the 
wide steps, the glass doors had closed on 
him, and I stood there in the pitch-black 
night, suddenly unable to believe that I 
was I, or Chalons Chalons, or that a young 
man who in Paris drops in to dine with 



IN ARGONNE 89 

me and talk over new books and plays, 
had been whispering a password in my 
ear to carry me unchallenged to a house a 
few streets away ! The sense of unreality 
produced by that one word was so over- 
whelming that for a blissful moment the 
whole fabric of what I had been experi- 
encing, the whole huge and oppressive and 
unescapable fact of the war, slipped away 
like a torn cobweb, and I seemed to see 
behind it the reassuring face of things as 
they used to be. 

The next morning dispelled that vision. 
We woke to a noise of guns closer and 
more incessant than even the first night's 
cannonade at Verdun; and when we went 
out into the streets it seemed as if, over- 
night, a new army had sprung out of the 
ground. Waylaid at one corner after an- 
other by the long tide of troops streaming 
out through the town to the northern 
suburbs, we saw in turn all the various 
divisions of the unfolding frieze: first the 



90 FIGHTING FRANCE 

infantry and artillery, the sappers and mi- 
ners, the endless trains of guns and am- 
munition, then the long line of grey supply- 
waggons, and finally the stretcher-bearers 
following the Red Cross ambulances. All 
the story of a day's warfare was written 
in the spectacle of that endless silent flow 
to the front: and we were to read it again, 
a few days later, in the terse announce- 
ment of "renewed activity" about Suippes, 
and of the bloody strip of ground gained 
between Perthes and Beausejour. 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 

Nancy, May 13th, 1915. 
TJESIDE me, on my writing-table, stands 
■*"-* a bunch of peonies, the jolly round- 
faced pink peonies of the village garden. 
They were picked this afternoon in the 
garden of a ruined house at Gerbeviller — 
a house so calcined and convulsed that, 
for epithets dire enough to fit it, one would 
have to borrow from a Hebrew prophet 
gloating over the fall of a city of idolaters. 
Since leaving Paris yesterday we have 
passed through streets and streets of such 
murdered houses, through town after town 
spread out in its last writhings; and before 
the black holes that were homes, along the 
edge of the chasms that were streets, every- 
where we have seen flowers and vegetables 
springing up in freshly raked and watered 
gardens. My pink peonies were not intro- 

03 



94 FIGHTING FRANCE 

duced to point the stale allegory of uncon- 
scious Nature veiling Man's havoc: they 
are put on my first page as a symbol of con- 
scious human energy coming back to re- 
plant and rebuild the wilderness. . . 

Last March, in the Argonne, the towns 
we passed through seemed quite dead; but 
yesterday new life was budding every- 
where. We were following another track of 
the invasion, one of the huge tiger-scratches 
that the Beast flung over the land last 
September, between Vitry-le-Frangois and 
Bar-le-Duc. Etrepy, Pargny, Sermaize-les- 
Bains, Andernay, are the names of this 
group of victims: Sermaize a pretty water- 
ing-place along wooded slopes, the others 
large villages fringed with farms, and all 
now mere scrofulous blotches on the soft 
spring scene. But in many we heard the 
sound of hammers, and saw brick-layers 
and masons at work. Even in the most 
mortally stricken there were signs of re- 
turning life: children playing among the 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 95 

stone heaps, and now and then a cautious 
older face peering out of a shed propped 
against the ruins. In one place an ancient 
tram-car had been converted into a cafe 
and labelled: "Au Restaurant des Ruines"; 
and everywhere between the calcined walls 
the carefully combed gardens aligned their 
radishes and lettuce-tops. 

From Bar-le-Duc we turned northeast, 
and as we entered the forest of Commercy 
we began to hear again the Voice of the 
Front. It was the warmest and stillest of 
May days, and in the clearing where we 
stopped for luncheon the familiar boom 
broke with a magnified loudness on the 
noonday hush. In the intervals between 
the crashes there was not a sound but the 
gnats' hum in the moist sunshine and the 
dryad-call of the cuckoo from greener 
depths. At the end of the lane a few cav- 
alrymen rode by in shabby blue, their 
horses' flanks glinting like ripe chestnuts. 
They stopped to chat and accept some 



96 FIGHTING FRANCE 

cigarettes, and when they had trotted off 
again the gnat, the cuckoo and the can- 
non took up their trio. . . 

The town of Commercy looked so un- 
disturbed that the cannonade rocking it 
might have been some unheeded echo of 
the hills. These frontier towns inured to 
the clash of war go about their business 
with what one might call stolidity if there 
were not finer, and truer, names for it. In 
Commercy, to be sure, there is little busi- 
ness to go about just now save that con- 
nected with the military occupation; but 
the peaceful look of the sunny sleepy 
streets made one doubt if the fighting line 
was really less than five miles away. . . 
Yet the French, with an odd perversion of 
race-vanity, still persist in speaking of 
themselves as a "nervous and impression- 
able" people! 

This afternoon, on the road to Gerbe- 
viller, we were again in the track of the 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 97 

September invasion. Over all the slopes 
now cool with spring foliage the battle 
rocked backward and forward during those 
burning autumn days; and every mile of 
the struggle has left its ghastly traces. 
The fields are full of wooden crosses which 
the ploughshare makes a circuit to avoid; 
many of the villages have been partly 
wrecked, and here and there an isolated 
ruin marks the nucleus of a fiercer struggle. 
But the landscape, in its first sweet leafi- 
ness, is so alive with ploughing and sowing 
and all the natural tasks of spring, that 
the war scars seem like traces of a long- 
past woe; and it was not till a bend of the 
road brought us in sight of Gerbeviller that 
we breathed again the choking air of pres- 
ent horror. 

Gerbeviller, stretched out at ease on its 
slopes above the Meurthe, must have 
been a happy place to live in. The streets 
slanted up between scattered houses in 
gardens to the great Louis XIV chateau 



98 FIGHTING FRANCE 

above the town and the church that bal- 
anced it. So much one can reconstruct 
from the first glimpse across the valley; 
but when one enters the town all perspec- 
tive is lost in chaos. Gerbeviller has taken 
to herself the title of "the martyr town"; 
an honour to which many sister victims 
might dispute her claim ! But as a sensa- 
tional image of havoc it seems improbable 
that any can surpass her. Her ruins seem 
to have been simultaneously vomited up 
from the depths and hurled down from the 
skies, as though she had perished in some 
monstrous clash of earthquake and tor- 
nado; and it fills one with a cold despair 
to know that this double destruction was 
no accident of nature but a piously planned 
and methodically executed human deed. 
From the opposite heights the poor little 
garden-girt town was shelled like a steel 
fortress; then, when the Germans entered, 
a fire was built in every house, and at the 
nicely-timed right moment one of the ex- 




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IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 99 

plosive tabloids which the fearless Teuton 
carries about for his land-Lusitanias was 
tossed on each hearth. It was all so well 
done that one wonders — almost apolo- 
getically for German thoroughness — that 
any of the human rats escaped from their 
holes; but some did, and were neatly 
spitted on lurking bayonets. 

One old woman, hearing her son's death- 
cry, rashly looked out of her door. A bullet 
instantly laid her low among her phloxes 
and lilies; and there, in her little garden, 
her dead body was dishonoured. It seemed 
singularly appropriate, in such a scene, to 
read above a blackened doorway the sign: 
"Monuments Funebres," and to observe 
that the house the doorway once belonged 
to had formed the angle of a lane called 
"La Ruelle des Orphelines." 

At one end of the main street of Gerbe- 
viller there once stood a charming house, 
of the sober old Lorraine pattern, with 
low door, deep roof and ample gables: it 



100 FIGHTING FRANCE 

was in the garden of this house that my 
pink peonies were picked for me by its 
owner, Mr. Liegeay, a former Mayor of 
Gerbeviller, who witnessed all the horrors 
of the invasion. 

Mr. Liegeay is now living in a neigh- 
bour's cellar, his own being fully occupied 
by the debris of his charming house. He 
told us the story of the three days of the 
German occupation; how he and his wife 
and niece, and the niece's babies, took to 
their cellar while the Germans set the 
house on fire, and how, peering through a 
door into the stable-yard, they saw that 
the soldiers suspected they were within 
and were trying to get at them. Luckily 
the incendiaries had heaped wood and straw 
all round the outside of the house, and the 
blaze was so hot that they could not reach 
the door. Between the arch of the door- 
way and the door itself was a half-moon 
opening; and Mr. Liegeay and his family, 
during three days and three nights, broke 



PUBUC LIBRA 
ASHTON, iOAl 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 101 

up all the barrels in the cellar and threw 
the bits out through the opening to feed 
the fire in the yard. 

Finally, on the third day, when they 
began to be afraid that the ruins of the 
house would fall in on them, they made a 
dash for safety. The house was on the 
edge of the town, and the women and 
children managed to get away into the 
country; but Mr. Liegeay was surprised 
in his garden by a German soldier. He 
made a rush for the high wall of the ad- 
joining cemetery, and scrambling over it 
slipped down between the wall and a big 
granite cross. The cross was covered with 
the hideous wire and glass wreaths dear to 
French mourners; and with these oppor- 
tune mementoes Mr. Liegeay roofed him- 
self in, lying wedged in his narrow hiding- 
place from three in the afternoon till night, 
and listening to the voices of the soldiers 
who were hunting for him among the 
grave-stones. Luckily it was their last day 



102 FIGHTING FRANCE 

at Gerbeviller, and the German retreat 
saved his life. 

Even in Gerbeviller we saw no worse 
scene of destruction than the particular 
spot in which the ex-mayor stood while 
he told his story. He looked about him at 
the heaps of blackened brick and con- 
torted iron. "This was my dining-room," 
he said. "There was some good old panel- 
ling on the walls, and some fine prints 
that had been a wedding-present to my 
grand-father." He led us into another black 
pit. "This was our sitting-room: you see 
what a view we had." He sighed, and 
added philosophically: "I suppose we were 
too well off. I even had an electric light 
out there on the terrace, to read my paper 
by on summer evenings. Yes, we were too 
well off. . ." That was all. 

Meanwhile all the town had been red 
with horror — flame and shot and tortures 
unnameable; and at the other end of the 
long street, a woman, a Sister of Charity, 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 103 

had held her own like Soeur Gabrielle at 
Clermont-en-Argonne, gathering her flock of 
old men and children about her and inter- 
posing her short stout figure between them 
and the fury of the Germans. We found her 
in her Hospice, a ruddy, indomitable woman 
who related with a quiet indignation more 
thrilling than invective the hideous details 
of the bloody three days; but that already 
belongs to the past, and at present she is 
much more concerned with the task of 
clothing and feeding Gerbeviller. For two 
thirds of the population have already 
"come home" — that is what they call 
the return to this desert ! "You see," Sceur 
Julie explained, ;i there are the crops to 
sow, the gardens to tend. They had to 
come back. The government is building 
wooden shelters for them; and people will 
surely send us beds and linen." (Of course 
they would, one felt as one listened !) 
"Heavy boots, too — boots for field-labour- 
ers. We want them for women as well as 



104 FIGHTING FRANCE 

men — like these." Soeur Julie, smiling, 
turned up a hob-nailed sole. "I have di- 
rected all the work on our Hospice farm 
myself. All the women are working in the 
fields — we must take the place of the 
men." And I seemed to see my pink peo- 
nies flowering in the very prints of her 
sturdy boots ! 

May 14th. 

Nancy, the most beautiful town in 
France, has never been as beautiful as 
now. Coming back to it last evening from 
a round of ruins one felt as if the humbler 
Sisters sacrificed to spare it were pleading 
with one not to forget them in the contem- 
plation of its dearly-bought perfection. 

The last time I looked out on the great 
architectural setting of the Place Stanislas 
was on a hot July evening, the evening of 
the National Fete. The square and the 
avenues leading to it swarmed with peo- 
ple, and as darkness fell the balanced lines 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 105 

of arches and palaces sprang out in many 
coloured light. Garlands of lamps looped 
the arcades leading into the Place de la 
Carriere, peacock-coloured fires flared from 
the Arch of Triumph, long curves of radi- 
ance beat like wings over the thickets of 
the park, the sculptures of the fountains, 
the brown-and-gold foliation of Jean Da- 
mour's great gates; and under this roofing 
of light was the murmur of a happy crowd 
carelessly celebrating the tradition of half- 
forgotten victories. 

Now, at sunset, all life ceases in Nancy 
and veil after veil of silence comes down 
on the deserted Place and its empty per- 
spectives. Last night by nine the few lin- 
gering lights in the streets had been put 
out, every window was blind, and the 
moonless night lay over the city like a 
canopy of velvet. Then, from some remote 
point, the arc of a search-light swept the 
sky, laid a fugitive pallor on darkened 
palace-fronts, a gleam of gold on invisible 



106 FIGHTING FRANCE 

gates, trembled across the black vault and 
vanished, leaving it still blacker. When we 
came out of the darkened restaurant on 
the corner of the square, and the iron 
curtain of the entrance had been hastily 
dropped on us, we stood in such complete 
night that it took a waiter's friendly hand 
to guide us to the curbstone. Then, as we 
grew used to the darkness, we saw it lying 
still more densely under the colonnade of 
the Place de la Carriere and the clipped 
trees beyond. The ordered masses of archi- 
tecture became august, the spaces between 
them immense, and the black sky faintly 
strewn with stars seemed to overarch an 
enchanted city. Not a footstep sounded, 
not a leaf rustled, not a breath of air drew 
under the arches. And suddenly, through 
the dumb night, the sound of the cannon 
began. 

May 14th. 
Luncheon with the General Staff in an 
old bourgeois house of a little town as 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 107 

sleepy as "Cranford." In the warm walled 
gardens everything was blooming at once: 
laburnums, lilacs, red hawthorn, Banksia 
roses and all the pleasant border plants 
that go with box and lavender. Never be- 
fore did the flowers answer the spring roll- 
call with such a rush ! Upstairs, in the Em- 
pire bedroom which the General has turned 
into his study, it was amusingly incongru- 
ous to see the sturdy provincial furniture 
littered with war-maps, trench-plans, aero- 
plane photographs and all the documenta- 
tion of modern war. Through the windows 
bees hummed, the garden rustled, and one 
felt, close by, behind the walls of other 
gardens, the untroubled continuance of a 
placid and orderly bourgeois life. 

We started early for Mousson on the 
Moselle, the ruined hill-fortress that gives 
its name to the better-known town at its 
foot. Our road ran below the long range 
of the "Grand Couronne," the line of hills 
curving southeast from Pont-a-Mousson 



108 FIGHTING FRANCE 

to St. Nicolas du Port. All through this 
pleasant broken country the battle shook 
and swayed last autumn; but few signs of 
those days are left except the wooden crosses 
in the fields. No troops are visible, and the 
pictures of war that made the Argonne so 
tragic last March are replaced by peace- 
ful rustic scenes. On the way to Mousson 
the road is overhung by an Italian-looking 
village clustered about a hill-top. It marks 
the exact spot at which, last August, the 
German invasion was finally checked and 
flung back; and the Muse of History points 
out that on this very hill has long stood a 
memorial shaft inscribed: Here, in the year 
362, Jovinus defeated the Teutonic hordes. 

A little way up the ascent to Mousson 
we left the motor behind a bit of rising 
ground. The road is raked by the German 
lines, and stray pedestrians (unless in a 
group) are less liable than a motor to have 
a shell spent on them. We climbed under a 
driving grey sky which swept gusts of rain 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 109 

across our road. In the lee of the castle 
we stopped to look down at the valley of 
the Moselle, the slate roofs of Pont-a- 
Mousson and the broken bridge which once 
linked together the two sides of the town. 
Nothing but the wreck of the bridge 
showed that we were on the edge of war. 
The wind was too high for firing, and we 
saw no reason for believing that the wood 
just behind the Hospice roof at our feet 
was seamed with German trenches and 
bristling with guns, or that from every 
slope across the valley the eye of the can- 
non sleeplessly glared. But there the Ger- 
mans were, drawing an iron ring about 
three sides of the watch-tower; and as one 
peered through an embrasure of the ancient 
walls one gradually found one's self re- 
living the sensations of the little medi- 
aeval burgh as it looked out on some earlier 
circle of besiegers. The longer one looked, 
the more oppressive and menacing the in- 
visibility of the foe became. " There they 



110 FIGHTING FRANCE 

are — and there — and there." We strained 
our eyes obediently, but saw only calm 
hillsides, dozing farms. It was as if the 
earth itself were the enemy, as if the hordes 
of evil were in the clods and grass-blades. 
Only one conical hill close by showed an 
odd artificial patterning, like the work of 
huge ants who had scarred it with criss- 
cross ridges. We were told that these were 
French trenches, but they looked much 
more like the harmless traces of a prehis- 
toric camp. 

Suddenly an officer, pointing to the west 
of the trenched hill said: "Do you see that 
farm?' : It lay just below, near the river, 
and so close that good eyes could easily 
have discerned people or animals in the 
farm-yard, if there had been any; but the 
whole place seemed to be sleeping the 
sleep of bucolic peace. " They are there" 
the officer said; and the innocent vignette 
framed by my field-glass suddenly glared 
back at me like a human mask of hate. 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 111 

The loudest cannonade had not made 
"them" seem as real as that ! . . . 

At this point the military lines and the 
old political frontier everywhere overlap, 
and in a cleft of the wooded hills that con- 
ceal the German batteries we saw a dark 
grey blur on the grey horizon. It was 
Metz, the Promised City, lying there with 
its fair steeples and towers, like the mystic 
banner that Constantine saw upon the 
sky. . . 

Through wet vineyards and orchards 
we scrambled down the hill to the river 
and entered Pont-a-Mousson. It was by 
mere meteorological good luck that we got 
there, for if the winds had been asleep the 
guns would have been awake, and when 
they wake poor Pont-a-Mousson is not at 
home to visitors. One understood why as 
one stood in the riverside garden of the 
great Premonstratensian Monastery which 
is now the hospital and the general asylum 
of the town. Between the clipped limes and 



112 FIGHTING FRANCE 

formal borders the German shells had 
scooped out three or four "dreadful hol- 
lows," in one of which, only last week, a 
little girl found her death; and the fagade 
of the building is pock-marked by shot 
and disfigured with gaping holes. Yet in 
this precarious shelter Sister Theresia, of 
the same indomitable breed as the Sisters 
of Clermont and Gerbeviller, has gathered 
a miscellaneous flock of soldiers wounded 
in the trenches, civilians shattered by the 
bombardment, eclopes, old women and 
children: all the human wreckage of this 
storm-beaten point of the front. Sister 
Theresia seems in no wise disconcerted by 
the fact that the shells continually play 
over her roof. The building is immense and 
spreading, and when one wing is damaged 
she picks up her proteges and trots them 
off, bed and baggage, to another. " Je pro- 
mene mes malades" she said calmly, as if 
boasting of the varied accommodation of 
an ultra-modern hospital, as she led us 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 113 

through vaulted and stuccoed galleries 
where caryatid-saints look down in plaster 
pomp on the rows of brown-blanketed 
pallets and the long tables at which hag- 
gard eclopes were enjoying their evening 
soup. 

May 15th. 

I have seen the happiest being on earth: 
a man who has found his job. 

This afternoon we motored southwest 
of Nancy to a little place called Menil-sur- 
Belvitte. The name is not yet intimately 
known to history, but there are reasons 
why it deserves to be, and in one man's 
mind it already is. Menil-sur-Belvitte is 
a village on the edge of the Vosges. It is 
badly battered, for awful fighting took 
place there in the first month of the w^ar. 
The houses lie in a hollow, and just be- 
yond it the ground rises and spreads into 
a plateau waving with wheat and backed 
by wooded slopes — the ideal "battle- 



114 FIGHTING FRANCE 

ground" of the history -books. And here 
a real above-ground battle of the old ob- 
solete kind took place, and the French, 
driving the Germans back victoriously, 
fell by thousands in the trampled wheat. 

The church of Menil is a ruin, but the 
parsonage still stands — a plain little house 
at the end of the street; and here the cure 
received us, and led us into a room which 
he has turned into a chapel. The chapel 
is also a war museum, and everything in it 
has something to do with the battle that 
took place among the wheat-fields. The 
candelabra on the altar are made of "Sev- 
enty-five" shells, the Virgin's halo is com- 
posed of radiating bayonets, the walls are 
intricately adorned with German trophies 
and French relics, and on the ceiling the 
cure has had painted a kind of zodiacal 
chart of the whole region, in which Menil- 
sur-Belvitte's handful of houses figures as 
the central orb of the system, and Verdun, 
Nancy, Metz, and Belfort as its humble 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 115 

satellites. But the chapel-museum is only 
a surplus expression of the cure's impas- 
sioned dedication to the dead. His real 
work has been done on the battle-field, 
where row after row of graves, marked and 
listed as soon as the struggle was over, 
have been fenced about, symmetrically 
disposed, planted with flowers and young 
firs, and marked by the names and death- 
dates of the fallen. As he led us from one 
of these enclosures to another his face was 
lit with the flame of a gratified vocation. 
This particular man was made to do this 
particular thing: he is a born collector, 
classifier, and hero-worshipper. In the hall 
of the "presbytere" hangs a case of care- 
fully-mounted butterflies, the result, no 
doubt, of an earlier passion for collecting. 
His "specimens" have changed, that is all: 
he has passed from butterflies to men, 
from the actual to the visionary Psyche. 

On the way to Menil we stopped at the 
village of C re vie. The Germans were there 



116 FIGHTING FRANCE 

in August, but the place is untouched — 
except for one house. That house, a large 
one, standing in a park at one end of the 
village, was the birth-place and home of 
General Lyautey, one of France's best sol- 
diers, and Germany's worst enemy in 
Africa. It is no exaggeration to say that 
last August General Lyautey, by his 
promptness and audacity, saved Morocco 
for France. The Germans know it, and 
hate him; and as soon as the first soldiers 
reached Crevic — so obscure and imper- 
ceptible a spot that even German omni- 
science might have missed it — the officer 
in command asked for General Lyautey's 
house, went straight to it, had all the 
papers, portraits, furniture and family 
relics piled in a bonfire in the court, and 
then burnt down the house. x4s we sat 
in the neglected park with the plaintive 
ruin before us we heard from the gardener 
this typical tale of German thoroughness 
and German chivalry. It is corroborated 




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60 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 117 

by the fact that not another house in 
Crevic was destroyed. 

May 16th. 
About two miles from the German fron- 
tier {frontier just here as well as front) 
an isolated hill rises out of the Lorraine 
meadows. East of it, a ribbon of river 
winds among poplars, and that ribbon is 
the boundary between Empire and Re- 
public. On such a clear day as this the 
view from the hill is extraordinarily in- 
teresting. From its grassy top a little 
aeroplane cannon stares to heaven, watch- 
ing the east for the danger speck; and the 
circumference of the hill is furrowed by a 
deep trench — a "bowel," rather — wind- 
ing invisibly from one subterranean ob- 
servation post to another. In each of these 
earthly warrens (ingeniously wattled, roofed 
and iron-sheeted) stand two or three artil- 
lery officers with keen quiet faces, direct- 
ing by telephone the fire of batteries 



118 FIGHTING FRANCE 

nestling somewhere in the woods four or 
five miles away. Interesting as the place 
was, the men who lived there interested 
me far more. They obviously belonged to 
different classes, and had received a dif- 
ferent social education; but their mental 
and moral fraternity was complete. They 
were all fairly young, and their faces had 
the look that war has given to French 
faces: a look of sharpened intelligence, 
strengthened will and sobered judgment, 
as if every faculty, trebly vivified, were so 
bent on the one end that personal prob- 
lems had been pushed back to the vanish- 
ing point of the great perspective. 

From this vigilant height — one of the 
intentest eyes open on the frontier — we 
went a short distance down the hillside to 
a village out of range of the guns, where 
the commanding officer gave us tea in a 
charming old house w r ith a terraced gar- 
den full of flowers and puppies. Below the 
terrace, lost Lorraine stretched away to her 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 119 

blue heights, a vision of summer peace: 
and just above us the unsleeping hill kept 
watch, its signal-wires trembling night and 
day. It was one of the intervals of rest 
and sweetness when the whole horrible 
black business seems to press most intoler- 
ably on the nerves. 

Below the village the road wound down 
to a forest that had formed a dark blur 
in our bird's-eye view of the plain. We 
passed into the forest and halted on the 
edge of a colony of queer exotic huts. On 
all sides they peeped through the branches, 
themselves so branched and sodded and 
leafy that they seemed like some transi- 
tion form between tree and house. We were 
in one of the so-called " villages negres" 
of the second-line trenches, the jolly little 
settlements to which the troops retire 
after doing their shift under fire. This par- 
ticular colony has been developed to an 
extreme degree of comfort and safety. 
The houses are partly underground, con- 



120 FIGHTING FRANCE 

nected by deep winding " bowels" over 
which light rustic bridges have been thrown, 
and so profoundly roofed with sods that 
as much of them as shows above ground 
is shell-proof. Yet they are real houses, 
with real doors and windows under their 
grass-eaves, real furniture inside, and real 
beds of daisies and pansies at their doors. 
In the Colonel's bungalow a big bunch of 
spring flowers bloomed on the table, and 
everywhere we saw the same neatness and 
order, the same amused pride in the look 
of things. The men were dining at long 
trestle-tables under the trees; tired, un- 
shaven men in shabby uniforms of all cuts 
and almost every colour. They were off 
duty, relaxed, in a good humour; but every 
face had the look of the faces watching on 
the hill- top. Wherever I go among these 
men of the front I have the same impres- 
sion: the impression that the absorbing un- 
divided thought of the Defence of France 
lives in the heart and brain of each soldier 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 121 

as intensely as in the heart and brain of 
their chief. 

We walked a dozen yards down the road 
and came to the edge of the forest. A wat- 
tled palisade bounded it, and through a 
gap in the palisade we looked out across 
a field to the roofs of a quiet village a mile 
away. I went out a few steps into the field 
and was abruptly pulled back. "Take care 
— those are the trenches!" What looked 
like a ridge thrown up by a plough was 
the enemy's line; and in the quiet village 
French cannon watched. Suddenly, as we 
stood there, they woke, and at the same 
moment we heard the unmistakable Gr-r-r 
of an aeroplane and saw a Bird of Evil 
high up against the blue. Snap, snap, snap 
barked the mitrailleuse on the hill, the 
soldiers jumped from their wine and 
strained their eyes through the trees, and 
the Taube, finding itself the centre of so 
much attention, turned grey tail and 
swished away to the concealing clouds. 



m FIGHTING FRANCE 

May 17th. 

Today we started with an intenser sense 
of adventure. Hitherto we had always 
been told beforehand where we were going 
and how much we were to be allowed to 
see; but now we were being launched into 
the unknown. Beyond a certain point all 
was conjecture — we knew only that what 
happened after that would depend on the 
good-will of a Colonel of Chasseurs-a-pied 
whom we were to go a long way to find, 
up into the folds of the mountains on our 
southeast horizon. 

We picked up a staff-officer at Head- 
quarters and flew on to a battered town 
on the edge of the hills. From there we 
wound up through a narrowing valley, 
under wooded cliffs, to a little settlement 
where the Colonel of the Brigade was to 
be found. There was a short conference 
between the Colonel and our staff-officer, 
and then we annexed a Captain of Chas- 
seurs and spun away again. Our road lay 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 123 

through a town so exposed that our com- 
panion from Head-quarters suggested the 
advisability of avoiding it; but our guide 
hadn't the heart to inflict such a disap- 
pointment on his new acquaintances. "Oh, 
we won't stop the motor — we '11 just 
dash through," he said indulgently; and 
in the excess of his indulgence he even 
permitted us to dash slowly. 

Oh, that poor town — when we reached 
it, along a road ploughed with fresh obus- 
holes, I didn't want to stop the motor; I 
wanted to hurry on and blot the picture 
from my memory! It was doubly sad to 
look at because of the fact that it wasn't 
quite dead; faint spasms of life still quiv- 
ered through it. A few children played in 
the ravaged streets; a few pale mothers 
watched them from cellar doorways. "They 
oughtn't to be here," our guide explained; 
"but about a hundred and fifty begged so 
hard to stay that the General gave them 
leave. The officer in command has an eye 



124 FIGHTING FRANCE 

on them, and whenever he gives the signal 
they dive down into their burrows. He says 
they are perfectly obedient. It was he who 
asked that they might stay. . ." 

Up and up into the hills. The vision of 
human pain and ruin was lost in beauty. 
We were among the firs, and the air was 
full of balm. The mossy banks gave out 
a scent of rain, and little water-falls from 
the heights set the branches trembling 
over secret pools. At each turn of the road, 
forest, and always more forest, climbing 
with us as we climbed, and dropping away 
from us to narrow valleys that converged 
on slate-blue distances. At one of these 
turns we overtook a company of soldiers, 
spade on shoulder and bags of tools across 
their backs — "trench-workers" swinging 
up to the heights to which we were bound. 
Life must be a better thing in this crystal 
air than in the mud-welter of the Argonne 
and the fogs of the North; and these men's 
faces were fresh with wind and weather. 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 125 

Higher still . . . and presently a halt on 
a ridge, in another "black village," this 
time almost a town ! The soldiers gathered 
round us as the motor stopped — throngs 
of chasseurs-a-pied in faded, trench-stained 
uniforms — for few visitors climb to this 
point, and their pleasure at the sight of 
new faces was presently expressed in a 
large ''Vive VAmerique /'" scrawled on the 
door of the car. UAmerique was glad and 
proud to be there, and instantly conscious 
of breathing an air saturated with courage 
and the dogged determination to endure. 
The men were all reservists: that is to say, 
mostly married, and all beyond the first 
fighting age. For many months there has 
not been much active work along this 
front, no great adventure to rouse the 
blood and wing the imagination: it has just 
been month after month of monotonous 
watching and holding on. And the soldiers' 
faces showed it: there was no light of heady 
enterprise in their eyes, but the look of 



126 FIGHTING FRANCE 

men who knew their job., had thought it 
over, and were there to hold their bit of 
France till the day of victory or extermina- 
tion. 

Meanwhile, they had made the best of 
the situation and turned their quarters into 
a forest colony that would enchant any 
normal boy. Their village architecture w T as 
more elaborate than any we had yet seen. 
In the Colonel's "dugout" a long table 
decked with lilacs and tulips was spread 
for tea. In other cheery catacombs we 
found neat rows of bunks, mess-tables, siz- 
zling sauce-pans over kitchen-fires. Every- 
where were endless ingenuities in the way 
of camp-furniture and household decora- 
tion. Farther down the road a path be- 
tween fir-boughs led to a hidden hospital, 
a marvel of underground compactness. 
While we chatted with the surgeon a sol- 
dier came in from the trenches: an elderly, 
bearded man, with a good average civilian 
face — the kind that one runs against by 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 127 

hundreds in any French crowd. He had a 
scalp-wound which had just been dressed, 
and was very pale. The Colonel stopped to 
ask a few questions, and then, turning to 
him, said: "Feeling rather better now?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"Good. In a day or two you '11 be think- 
ing about going back to the trenches, eh?" 

"I'm going now, sir," It was said quite 
simply, and received in the same way. 
"Oh, all right," the Colonel merely re- 
joined; but he laid his hand on the man's 
shoulder as we went out. 

Our next visit was to a sod-thatched 
hut, "At the sign of the Ambulant Arti- 
sans," where two or three soldiers were 
modelling and chiselling all kinds of trin- 
kets from the aluminium of enemy shells. 
One of the ambulant artisans was just fin- 
ishing a ring with beautifully modelled 
fauns' heads, another offered me a "Pick- 
elhaube" small enough for Mustard-seed's 
wear, but complete in every detail, and 



128 FIGHTING FRANCE 

inlaid with the bronze eagle from an Im- 
perial pfennig. There are many such ring- 
smiths among the privates at the front, 
and the severe, somewhat archaic design 
of their rings is a proof of the sureness of 
French taste; but the two we visited hap- 
pened to be Paris jewellers, for whom 
"artisan" was really too modest a pseu- 
donym. Officers and men were evidently 
proud of their work, and as they stood 
hammering away in their cramped smithy, 
a red gleam lighting up the intentness of 
their faces, they seemed to be beating out 
the cheerful rhythm of "I too will some- 
thing make, and joy in the making." . . 

Up the hillside, in deeper shadow, was 
another little structure; a wooden shed 
with an open gable sheltering an altar 
with candles and flowers. Here mass is 
said by one of the conscript priests of the 
regiment, while his congregation kneel be- 
tween the fir-trunks, giving life to the old 
metaphor of the cathedral-forest. Near by 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 129 

was the grave-yard, where day by day 
these quiet elderly men lay their com- 
rades, the peres de famille who don't go 
back. The care of this woodland cemetery 
is left entirely to the soldiers, and they 
have spent treasures of piety on the in- 
scriptions and decorations of the graves. 
Fresh flow T ers are brought up from the 
valleys to cover them, and when some 
favourite comrade goes, the men scorn- 
ing ephemeral tributes, club together to 
buy a monstrous indestructible wreath with 
emblazoned streamers. It was near the end 
of the afternoon, and many soldiers were 
strolling along the paths between the 
graves. "It 's their favourite walk at this 
hour," the Colonel said. He stopped to 
look down on a grave smothered in beady 
tokens, the grave of the last pal to fall. 
"He was mentioned in the Order of the 
Day," the Colonel explained; and the 
group of soldiers standing near looked at 
us proudly, as if sharing their comrade's 



130 FIGHTING FRANCE 

honour, and wanting to be sure that we 
understood the reason of their pride. . . 

"And now," said our Captain of Chas- 
seurs, "that you've seen the second-line 
trenches, what do you say to taking a look 
at the first?" 

We followed him to a point higher up 
the hill, where we plunged into a deep 
ditch of red earth — the "bowel" leading 
to the first lines. It climbed still higher, 
under the wet firs, and then, turning, 
dipped over the edge and began to wind 
in sharp loops down the other side of the 
ridge. Down we scrambled, single file, our 
chins on a level with the top of the pas- 
sage, the close green covert above us. 
The 'bowel" went twisting down more 
and more sharply into a deep ravine; and 
presently, at a bend, we came to a fir- 
thatched outlook, where a soldier stood 
with his back to us, his eye glued to a 
peep-hole in the wattled wall. Another 
turn, and another outlook; but here it was 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 131 

the iron-rimmed eye of the mitrailleuse 
that stared across the ravine. By this time 
we were within a hundred yards or so of 
the German lines, hidden, like ours, on 
the other side of the narrowing hollow; 
and as we stole down and down, the hush 
and secrecy of the scene, and the sense of 
that imminent lurking hatred only a few 
branch-lengths away, seemed to fill the 
silence with mysterious pulsations. Sud- 
denly a sharp noise broke on them: the rap 
of a rifle-shot against a tree-trunk a few 
yards ahead. 

"Ah, the sharp-shooter," said our guide. 
"No more talking, please — he 's over there, 
in a tree somewhere, and whenever he bears 
voices he fires. Some day we shall spot 
his tree." 

We went on in silence to a point where 
a few soldiers were sitting on a ledge of 
rock in a widening of the "bowel." They 
looked as quiet as if they had been waiting 
for their bocks before a Boulevard cafe. 



132 FIGHTING FRANCE 

"Not beyond, please," said the officer, 
holding me back; and I stopped. 

Here we were, then, actually and liter- 
ally in the first lines ! The knowledge made 
one's heart tick a little; but, except for 
another shot or two from our arboreal 
listener, and the motionless intentness of 
the soldier's back at the peep-hole, there 
was nothing to show that we were not a 
dozen miles away. 

Perhaps the thought occurred to our 
Captain of Chasseurs; for just as I was 
turning back he said with his friendliest 
twinkle: "Do you want awfully to go a 
little farther? Well, then, come on." 

We went past the soldiers sitting on the 
ledge and stole down and down, to where 
the trees ended at the bottom of the ra- 
vine. The sharp-shooter had stopped firing, 
and nothing disturbed the leafy silence but 
an intermittent drip of rain. We were at 
the end of the burrow, and the Captain 
signed to me that I might take a cautious 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 133 

peep round its corner. I looked out and 
saw a strip of intensely green meadow just 
under me, and a wooded cliff rising abruptly 
on its other side. That was all. The wooded 
cliff swarmed with "them," and a few 
steps would have carried us across the in- 
terval; yet all about us was silence, and 
the peace of the forest. Again, for a min- 
ute, I had the sense of an all-pervading, 
invisible power of evil, a saturation of the 
whole landscape with some hidden vitriol 
of hate. Then the reaction of unbelief set 
in, and I felt myself in a harmless ordi- 
nary glen, like a million others on an un- 
troubled earth. We turned and began to 
climb again, loop by loop, up the "bowel" 
— we passed the lolling soldiers, the silent 
mitrailleuse, we came again to the watcher 
at his peep-hole. He heard us, let the 
officer pass, and turned his head with a 
little sign of understanding. 

"Do you want to look down?" 

He moved a step away from his window. 



134 FIGHTING FRANCE 

The look-out projected over the ravine, 
raking its depths; and here, with one's eye 
to the leaf-lashed hole, one saw at last . . . 
saw, at the bottom of the harmless glen, 
half way between cliff and cliff, a grey 
uniform huddled in a dead heap. "He 's 
been there for days: they can't fetch him 
away," said the watcher, regluing his eye 
to the hole; and it was almost a relief to 
find it was after all a tangible enemy 
hidden over there across the meadow. . . 

The sun had set when we got back to 
our starting-point in the underground vil- 
lage. The chasseurs-a-pied were lounging 
along the roadside and standing in gossip- 
ing groups about the motor. It was long 
since they had seen faces from the other 
life, the life they had left nearly a year 
earlier and had not been allowed to go 
back to for a day; and under all their jokes 
and good-humour their farewell had a 
tinge of wistfulness. But one felt that this 



IN LORRAINE AND THE VOSGES 135 

fugitive reminder of a world they had put 
behind them would pass like a dream, and 
their minds revert without effort to the one 
reality: the business of holding their bit of 
France. 

It is hard to say why this sense of the 
French soldier's single-mindedness is so 
strong in all who have had even a glimpse 
of the front; perhaps it is gathered less 
from what the men say than from the look 
in their eyes. Even while they are accept- 
ing cigarettes and exchanging trench -jokes, 
the look is there; and when one comes on 
them unaware it is there also. In the dusk 
of the forest that look followed us down 
the mountain; and as we skirted the edge 
of the ravine between the armies, we felt 
that on the far side of that dividing line 
were the men who had made the war, and 
on the near side the men who had been 
made by it. 



IN THE NORTH 



IN THE NORTH 

June 19th, 1915. 
/^\N the way from Doullens to Mon- 
^^ treuil-sur-Mer, on a shining summer 
afternoon. A road between dusty hedges, 
choked, literally strangled, by a torrent of 
westward-streaming troops of all arms. 
Every few minutes there would come a 
break in the flow, and our motor would 
wriggle through, advance a few yards and be 
stopped again by a widening of the tor- 
rent that jammed us into the ditch and 
splashed a dazzle of dust into our eyes. 
The dust was stifling — but through it, what 
a sight ! 

Standing up in the car and looking back, 
we watched the river of war wind toward 
us. Cavalry, artillery, lancers, infantry, 
sappers and miners, trench-diggers, road- 
makers, stretcher-bearers, they swept on as 

139 



140 FIGHTING FRANCE 

smoothly as if in holiday order. Through 
the dust, the sun picked out the flash of 
lances and the gloss of chargers' flanks, 
flushed rows and rows of determined faces, 
found the least touch of gold on faded 
uniforms, silvered the sad grey of mitra- 
illeuses and munition waggons. Close as 
the men were, they seemed allegorically 
splendid: as if, under the arch of the 
sunset, we had been watching the whole 
French army ride straight into glory. . . 

Finally we left the last detachment be* 
hind, and had the country to ourselves. 
The disfigurement of war has not touched 
the fields of Artois. The thatched farm- 
houses dozed in gardens full of roses and 
hollyhocks, and the hedges above the duck- 
ponds were weighed down with layers of 
elder-blossom. On all sides wheat-fields 
skirted with woodland went billowing away 
under the breezy light that seemed to carry 
a breath of the Atlantic on its beams. The 
road ran up and down as if our motor were 



IN THE NORTH 141 

a ship on a deep-sea swell; and such a sense 
of space and light was in the distances , 
such a veil of beauty over the whole 
world, that the vision of that army on the 
move grew more and more fabulous and 
epic. 

The sun had set and the sea-twilight 
was rolling in when we dipped down from 
the town of Montreuil to the valley be- 
low, where the towers of an ancient abbey- 
church rise above terraced orchards. The 
gates at the end of the avenue were thrown 
open, and the motor drove into a monas- 
tery court full of box and roses. Everything 
was sweet and secluded in this mediaeval 
place; and from the shadow of cloisters 
and arched passages groups of nuns flut- 
tered out, nuns all black or all white, gliding, 
peering and standing at gaze. It was as if we 
had plunged back into a century to which 
motors were unknown and our car had been 
some monster cast up from a Barbary ship- 
wreck; and the startled attitudes of these 



142 FIGHTING FRANCE 

holy women did credit to their sense of the 
picturesque; for the Abbey of Neuville is 
now a great Belgian hospital, and such 
monsters must frequently intrude on its 
seclusion. . . 

Sunset, and summer dusk, and the moon. 
Under the monastery windows a walled 
garden with stone pavilions at the angles 
«and the drip of a fountain. Below it, tiers 
of orchard-terraces fading into a great moon- 
confused plain that might be either fields or 
sea* • • 

June 20th. 
Today our way ran northeast, through 
a landscape so English that there was no 
incongruity in the sprinkling of khaki 
along the road. Even the villages look Eng- 
lish: the same plum-red brick of tidy self- 
respecting houses, neat, demure and freshly 
painted, the gardens all bursting with 
flowers, the landscape hedgerowed and wil- 
lowed and fed with water-courses, the peo- 




One of the "bowels." 



IN THE NORTH 143 

pie's faces square and pink and honest, and 
the signs over the shops in a language half 
way between English and German. Only 
the architecture of the towns is French, of 
a reserved and robust northern type, but 
unmistakably in the same great tradition. 
War still seemed so far off that one had 
time for these digressions as the motor 
flew on over the undulating miles. But 
presently we came on an aviation camp 
spreading its sheds over a wide plateau. 
Here the khaki throng was thicker and 
the familiar military stir enlivened the 
landscape. A few miles farther, and we 
found ourselves in what was seemingly a 
big English town oddly grouped about a 
nucleus of French churches. This was St. 
Omer, grey, spacious, coldly clean in its 
Sunday emptiness. At the street crossings 
English sentries stood mechanically direct- 
ing the absent traffic with gestures familiar 
to Piccadilly; and the signs of the British 
Red Cross and St. John's Ambulance hung 



144 FIGHTING FRANCE 

on club-like fagades that might almost have 
claimed a home in Pall Mall. 

The Englishness of things was empha- 
sized, as we passed out through the suburbs, 
by the look of the crowd on the canal 
bridges and along the roads. Every nation 
has its own way of loitering, and there is 
nothing so unlike the French way as the 
English. Even if all these tall youths had 
not been in khaki, and the girls with them 
so pink and countrified, one would instantly 
have recognized the passive northern way of 
letting a holiday soak in instead of squeez- 
ing out its juices with feverish fingers. 

When we turned westward from St. 
Omer, across the same pastures and water- 
courses, we were faced by two hills stand- 
ing up abruptly out of the plain; and on 
the top of one rose the walls and towers 
of a compact little mediaeval town. As we 
took the windings that led up to it a sense of 
Italy began to penetrate the persistent 
impression of being somewhere near the 



IN THE NORTH 145 

English Channel. The town we were ap- 
proaching might have been a queer dream- 
blend of Winchelsea and San Gimignano; 
but when we entered the gates of Cassel we 
were in a place so intensely itself that all 
analogies dropped out of mind. 

It was not surprising to learn from the 
guide-book that Cassel has the most ex- 
tensive view of any town in Europe: one 
felt at once that it differed in all sorts of 
marked and self-assertive ways from every 
other town, and would be almost sure to 
have the best things going in every line. 
And the line of an illimitable horizon is 
exactly the best to set off its own quaint 
compactness. 

We found our hotel in the most perfect 
of little market squares, with a Renais- 
sance town-hall on one side, and on the 
other a miniature Spanish palace with a 
front of rosy brick adorned by grey carv- 
ings. The square was crowded with Eng- 
lish army motors and beautiful prancing 



146 FIGHTING FRANCE 

chargers; and the restaurant of the inn 
(which has the luck to face the pink and 
grey palace) swarmed with khaki tea- 
drinkers turning indifferent shoulders to 
the widest view in Europe. It is one of 
the most detestable things about war that 
everything connected with it, except the 
death and ruin that result, is such a 
heightening of life, so visually stimulating 
and absorbing. "It was gay and terrible," 
is the phrase forever recurring in 'War 
and Peace"; and the gaiety of war was 
everywhere in Cassel, transforming the 
lifeless little town into a romantic stage- 
setting full of the flash of arms and the 
virile animation of young faces. 

From the park on top of the hill we 
looked down on another picture. All about 
us was the plain, its distant rim merged 
in northern sea-mist; and through the 
mist, in the glitter of the afternoon sun, 
far-off towns and shadowy towers lay 
steeped, as it seemed, in summer quiet. 



IN THE NORTH 147 

For a moment, while we looked, the vision 
of war shrivelled up like a painted veil; 
then we caught the names pronounced by 
a group of English soldiers leaning over 
the parapet at our side. "That's Dun- 
kerque" — one of them pointed it out 
with his pipe — "and there's Poperinghe, 
just under us; that's Furnes beyond, and 
Ypres and Dixmude, and Nieuport. . ." 
And at the mention of those names the 
scene grew dark again, and we felt the 
passing of the Angel to whom was given 
the Key of the Bottomless Pit. 

That night we went up once more to 
the rock of Cassel. The moon was full, 
and as civilians are not allowed out alone 
after dark a staff-officer went with us to 
show us the view from the roof of the dis- 
used Casino on top of the rock. It was 
the queerest of sensations to push open a 
glazed door and find ourselves in a spec- 
tral painted room with soldiers dozing in 
the moonlight on polished floors, their 



148 FIGHTING FRANCE 

kits stacked on the gaming tables. We 
passed through a big vestibule among more 
soldiers lounging in the half-light, and up a 
long staircase to the roof where a watcher 
challenged us and then let us go to the 
edge of the parapet. Directly below lay the 
unlit mass of the town. To the northwest 
a single sharp hill, the "Mont des Cats," 
stood out against the sky; the rest of 
the horizon was unbroken, and floating in 
misty moonlight. The outline of the ruined 
towns had vanished and peace seemed to 
have won back the world. But as we stood 
there a red flash started out of the mist 
far off to the northwest; then another and 
another flickered up at different points of 
the long curve. "Luminous bombs thrown 
up along the lines," our guide explained; 
and just then, at still another point a 
white light opened like a tropical flower, 
spread to full bloom and drew itself back 
into the night. "A flare," we were told; 
and another white flower bloomed out far- 



IN THE NORTH 149 

ther down. Below us, the roofs of Cassel 
slept their provincial sleep, the moonlight 
picking out every leaf in the gardens; while 
beyond, those infernal flowers continued to 
open and shut along the curve of death. 

June 21st. 
On the road from Cassel to Poperinghe. 
Heat, dust, crowds, confusion, all the sor- 
did shabby rear-view of war. The road 
running across the plain between white- 
powdered hedges was ploughed up by 
numberless motor -vans, supply -waggons 
and Red Cross ambulances. Labouring 
through between them came detachments 
of British artillery, clattering gun-car- 
riages, straight young figures on glossy 
horses, long Phidian lines of youths so 
ingenuously fair that one wondered how 
they could have looked on the Medusa 
face of war and lived. Men and beasts, in 
spite of the dust, were as fresh and sleek as 
if they had come from a bath; and every- 



150 FIGHTING FRANCE 

where along the wayside were improvised 
camps, with tents made of waggon-covers, 
where the ceaseless indomitable work of 
cleaning was being carried out in all its 
searching details. Shirts were drying on 
elder-bushes, kettles boiling over gypsy 
fires, men shaving, blacking their boots, 
cleaning their guns, rubbing down their 
horses, greasing their saddles, polishing 
their stirrups and bits: on all sides a 
general cheery struggle against the pre- 
vailing dust, discomfort and disorder. Here 
and there a young soldier leaned against a 
garden paling to talk to a girl among the 
hollyhocks, or an older soldier initiated 
a group of children into some mystery 
of military housekeeping; and everywhere 
were the same signs of friendly inarticulate 
understanding with the owners of the fields 
and gardens. 

From the thronged high-road we passed 
into the emptiness of deserted Poperinghe, 
and out again on the way to Ypres. Beyond 



PUBLIC LFBRAW 
ASHTOM, IDAHC 



IN THE NORTH 151 

the flats and wind-mills to our left were the 
invisible German lines, and the staff-officer 
who was with us leaned forward to caution 
our chauffeur: "No tooting between here 
and Ypres." There was still a good deal 
of movement on the road, though it was 
less crowded with troops than near Pope- 
ringhe; but as we passed through the last 
village and approached the low line of 
houses ahead, the silence and emptiness 
widened about us. That low line was Ypres; 
every monument that marked it, that gave 
it an individual outline, is gone. It is a 
town without a profile. 

The motor slipped through a suburb of 
small brick houses and stopped under cover 
of some slightly taller buildings. Another 
military motor waited there, the chauffeur 
relic-hunting in the gutted houses. 

We got out and walked toward the 
centre of the Cloth Market. We had seen 
evacuated towns — Verdun, Badonviller, 
Raon-1'Etape — but we had seen no empti- 



152 FIGHTING FRANCE 

ness like this. Not a human being was in 
the streets. Endless lines of houses looked 
down on us from vacant windows. Our 
footsteps echoed like the tramp of a crowd, 
our lowered voices seemed to shout. In 
one street we came on three English sol- 
diers who were carrying a piano out of a 
house and lifting it onto a hand-cart. 
They stopped to stare at us, and we stared 
back. It seemed an age since we had seen 
a living being ! One of the soldiers scram- 
bled into the cart and tapped out a tune 
on the cracked key-board, and we all 
laughed with relief at the foolish noise. . . 
Then we walked on and were alone again. 

We had seen other ruined towns, but 
none like this. The towns of Lorraine were 
blown up, burnt down, deliberately erased 
from the earth. At worst they are like 
stone-yards, at best like Pompeii. But 
Ypres has been bombarded to death, and 
the outer walls of its houses are still stand- 
ing, so that it presents the distant sem- 



IN THE NORTH 153 

blance of a living city, while near by it 
is seen to be a disembowelled corpse. Ev- 
ery window-pane is smashed, nearly every 
building unroofed, and some house-fronts 
are sliced clean off, with the different sto- 
ries exposed, as if for the stage-setting of a 
farce. In these exposed interiors the poor 
little household gods shiver and blink like 
owls surprised in a hollow tree. A hundred 
signs of intimate and humble tastes, of 
humdrum pursuits, of family association, 
cling to the unmasked walls. Whiskered 
photographs fade on morning-glory wall- 
papers, plaster saints pine under glass bells, 
antimacassars droop from plush sofas, yel- 
lowing diplomas display their seals on office 
walls. It was all so still and familiar that 
it seemed as if the people for whom these 
things had a meaning might at any moment 
come back and take up their daily business. 
And then — crash ! the guns began, slam- 
ming out volley after volley all along the 
English lines, and the poor frail web of 



154 FIGHTING FRANCE 

things that had made up the lives of a van- 
ished city-full hung dangling before us in 
that deathly blast. 

We had just reached the square before 
the Cathedral when the cannonade began, 
and its roar seemed to build a roof of 
iron over the glorious ruins of Ypres. The 
singular distinction of the city is that it is 
destroyed but not abased. The walls of 
the Cathedral, the long bulk of the Cloth 
Market, still lift themselves above the 
market place with a majesty that seems 
to silence compassion. The sight of those 
fagades, so proud in death, recalled a 
phrase used soon after the fall of Liege by 
Belgium's Foreign Minister — "La Belgique 
ne regrette rien " — which ought some day to 
serve as the motto of the renovated city. 

We were turning to go when we heard 
a whirr overhead, followed by a volley of 
mitrailleuse. High up in the blue, over the 
centre of the dead city, flew a German aero- 
plane; and all about it hundreds of white 



IN THE NORTH 155 

shrapnel tufts burst out in the summer sky 
like the miraculous snow-fall of Italian le- 
gend. Up and up they flew, on the trail of 
the Taube, and on flew the Taube, faster 
still, till quarry and pack were lost in mist, 
and the barking of the mitrailleuse died out. 
So we left Ypres to the death-silence in 
which we had found her. 

The afternoon carried us back to Pope- 
ringhe, where I was bound on a quest 
for lace-cushions of the special kind re- 
quired by our Flemish refugees. The model 
is unobtainable in France, and I had been 
told — with few and vague indications — 
that I might find the cushions in a certain 
convent of the city. But in which? 

Poperinghe, though little injured, is al- 
most empty. In its tidy desolation it 
looks like a town on which a wicked en- 
chanter has laid a spell. We roamed from 
quarter to quarter, hunting for some one 
to show us the way to the convent I was 
looking for, till at last a passer-by led us 



156 FIGHTING FRANCE 

to a door which seemed the right one. 
At our knock the bars were drawn and 
a cloistered face looked out. No, there 
were no cushions there; and the nun had 
never heard of the order we named. But 
there were the Penitents, the Benedic- 
tines — we might try. Our guide offered to 
show us the way and we went on. From 
one or two windows, wondering heads 
looked out and vanished; but the streets 
were lifeless. At last we came to a con- 
vent where there were no nuns left, but 
where, the caretaker told us, there were 
cushions — a great many. He led us through 
pale blue passages, up cold stairs, through 
rooms that smelt of linen and lavender. 
We passed a chapel with plaster saints in 
white niches above paper flowers. Every- 
thing was cold and bare and blank: like 
a mind from which memory has gone. 
We came to a class room with lines of 
empty benches facing a blue-mantled Vir- 
gin; and here, on the floor, lay rows and 



IN THE NORTH 157 

rows of lace-cushions. On each a bit of 
lace had been begun — and there they had 
been dropped when nuns and pupils fled. 
They had not been left in disorder: the 
rows had been laid out evenly, a handker- 
chief thrown over each cushion. And that 
orderly arrest of life seemed sadder than 
any scene of disarray. It symbolized the 
senseless paralysis of a whole nation's ac- 
tivities. Here were a houseful of women 
and children, yesterday engaged in a use- 
ful task and now aimlessly astray over the 
earth. And in hundreds of such houses, 
in dozens, in hundreds of open towns, 
the hand of time had been stopped, the 
heart of life had ceased to beat, all the 
currents of hope and happiness and in- 
dustry been choked — not that some great 
military end might be gained, or the 
length of the war curtailed, but that, 
wherever the shadow of Germany falls, all 
things should wither at the root. 

The same sight met us everywhere that 



158 FIGHTING FRANCE 

afternoon. Over Furnes and Bergues, and 
all the little intermediate villages, the 
evil shadow lay. Germany had willed that 
these places should die, and wherever her 
bombs could not reach her malediction 
had carried. Only Biblical lamentation 
can convey a vision of this life-drained 
land. "Your country is desolate; your 
cities are burned with fire; your land, 
strangers devour it in your presence, and 
it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers." 
Late in the afternoon we came to Dun- 
kerque, lying peacefully between its har- 
bour and canals. The bombardment of the 
previous month had emptied it, and though 
no signs of damage were visible the same 
spellbound air lay over everything. As we 
sat alone at tea in the hall of the hotel on 
the Place Jean Bart, and looked out on 
the silent square and its lifeless shops and 
cafes, some one suggested that the hotel 
would be a convenient centre for the ex- 
cursions we had planned, and we decided 



IN THE NORTH 159 

to return there the next evening. Then we 
motored back to Cassel. 

June 22nd. 

My first waking thought was : " How time 
flies ! It must be the Fourteenth of July !" 
I knew it could not be the Fourth of that 
specially commemorative month, because 
I was just awake enough to be sure I was 
not in America; and the only other event 
to justify such a terrific clatter was the 
French national anniversary. I sat up and 
listened to the popping of guns till a com- 
pleter sense of reality stole over me, and I 
realized that I was in the inn of the Wild 
Man at Cassel, and that it was not the 
fourteenth of July but the twenty-second 
of June. 

Then, what — ? A Taube, of course ! 
And all the guns in the place were crack- 
ing at it ! By the time this mental process 
was complete, I had scrambled up and hur- 
ried downstairs and, unbolting the heavy 



160 FIGHTING FRANCE 

doors, had rushed out into the square. It 
was about four in the morning, the heaven- 
liest moment of a summer dawn, and in 
spite of the tumult Cassel still apparently 
slept. Only a few soldiers stood in the 
square, looking up at a drift of white cloud 
behind which — they averred — a Taube 
had just slipped out of sight. Cassel was 
evidently used to Taubes, and I had the 
sense of having overdone my excitement 
and not being exactly in tune ; so after gaz- 
ing a moment at the white cloud I slunk 
back into the hotel, barred the door and 
mounted to my room. At a window on the 
stairs I paused to look out over the sloping 
roofs of the town, the gardens, the plain; 
and suddenly there was another crash and 
a drift of white smoke blew up from the 
fruit-trees just under the window. It was 
a last shot at the fugitive, from a gun 
hidden in one of those quiet provincial 
gardens between the houses; and its se- 
cret presence there was more startling than 



IN THE NORTH 161 

all the clatter of mitrailleuses from the 
rock. 

Silence and sleep came down again on 
Cassel; but an hour or two later the hush 
was broken by a roar like the last trump. 
This time it was no question of mitrai- 
lleuses. The Wild Man rocked on its base, 
and every pane in my windows beat a 
tattoo. What was that incredible unim- 
agined sound? Why, it could be nothing, 
of course, but the voice of the big siege- 
gun of Dixmude ! Five times, while I was 
dressing, the thunder shook my windows, 
and the air was filled with a noise that 
may be compared — if the human imagina- 
tion can stand the strain — to the simul- 
taneous closing of all the iron shop-shutters 
in the world. The odd part was that, as far 
as the Wild Man and its inhabitants were 
concerned, no visible effects resulted, and 
dressing, packing and coffee-drinking went 
on comfortably in the strange parentheses 
between the roars. 



162 FIGHTING FRANCE 

We set off early for a neighbouring 
Head-quarters, and it was not till we 
turned out of the gates of Cassel that we 
came on signs of the bombardment: the 
smashing of a gas-house and the convert- 
ing of a cabbage-field into a crater which, 
for some time to come, will spare photog- 
raphers the trouble of climbing Vesuvius. 
There was a certain consolation in the dis- 
crepancy between the noise and the damage 
done. 

At Head-quarters we learned more of 
the morning's incidents. Dunkerque, it 
appeared, had first been visited by the 
Taube which afterward came to take the 
range of Cassel; and the big gun of Dix- 
mude had then turned all its fury on the 
French sea-port. The bombardment of 
Dunkuerque was still going on; and we 
were asked, and in fact bidden, to give up 
our plan of going there for the night. 

After luncheon we turned north, toward 
the dunes. The villages we drove through 



IN THE NORTH 163 

were all evacuated, some quite lifeless, 
others occupied by troops. Presently we 
came to a group of military motors drawn 
up by the roadside, and a field black with 
wheeling troops. "Admiral Ronarc'h!" our 
companion from Head-quarters exclaimed; 
and we understood that we had had the 
good luck to come on the hero of Dixmude 
in the act of reviewing the marine fusiliers 
and territorials whose magnificent defense 
of last October gave that much-besieged 
town another lease of glory. 

We stopped the motor and climbed to a 
ridge above the field. A high wind was 
blowing, bringing with it the booming of 
the guns along the front. A sun half-veiled 
in sand-dust shone on pale meadows, sandy 
flats, grey wind -mills. The scene was de- 
serted, except for the handful of troops 
deploying before the officers on the edge 
of the field. Admiral Ronarc'h, white- 
gloved and in full-dress uniform, stood a 
little in advance, a young naval officer at 



164 FIGHTING FRANCE 

his side. He had just been distributing 
decorations to his fusiliers and territorials, 
and they were marching past him, flags 
flying and bugles playing. Every one of 
those men had a record of heroism, and 
every face in those ranks had looked on 
horrors unnameable. They had lost Dix- 
mude — for a while — but they had gained 
great glory, and the inspiration of their 
epic resistance had come from the quiet 
officer who stood there, straight and grave, 
in his white gloves and gala uniform. 

One must have been in the North to 
know something of the tie that exists, in 
this region of bitter and continuous fight- 
ing, between officers and soldiers. The 
feeling of the chiefs is almost one of ven- 
eration for their men; that of the soldiers, 
a kind of half-humorous tenderness for 
the officers who have faced such odds with 
them. This mutual regard reveals itself 
in a hundred undefinable ways; but its 
fullest expression is in the tone with which 



IN THE NORTH 165 

the commanding officers speak the two 
words oftenest on their lips: "My men." 

The little review over, we went on to 
Admiral Ronarc'h's quarters in the dunes, 
and thence, after a brief visit, to another 
brigade Head-quarters. We were in a region 
of sandy hillocks feathered by tamarisk, 
and interspersed with poplar groves slant- 
ing like wheat in the wind. Between these 
meagre thickets the roofs of seaside bun- 
galows showed above the dunes; and be- 
fore one of these we stopped, and were 
led into a sitting-room full of maps and 
aeroplane photographs. One of the officers 
of the brigade telephoned to ask if the way 
was clear to Nieuport; and the answer was 
that we might go on. 

Our road ran through the "Bois Tri- 
angulaire," a bit of woodland exposed to 
constant shelling. Half the poor spindling 
trees were down, and patches of blackened 
undergrowth and ragged hollows marked 
the path of the shells. If the trees of a 



166 FIGHTING FRANCE 

cannonaded wood are of strong inland 
growth their fallen trunks have the majesty 
of a ruined temple; but there was some- 
thing humanly pitiful in the frail trunks 
of the Bois Triangulaire, lying there like 
slaughtered rows of immature troops. 

A few miles more brought us to Nieu- 
port, most lamentable of the victim towns. 
It is not empty as Ypres is empty: troops 
are quartered in the cellars, and at the 
approach of our motor knots of cheerful 
zouaves came swarming out of the ground 
like ants. But Ypres is majestic in death, 
poor Nieuport gruesomely comic. About 
its splendid nucleus of mediaeval architec- 
ture a modern town had grown up; and 
nothing stranger can be pictured than the 
contrast between the streets of flimsy 
houses, twisted like curl-papers, and the 
ruins of the Gothic Cathedral and the 
Cloth Market. It is like passing from a 
smashed toy to the survival of a prehistoric 
cataclysm. 




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IN THE NORTH 167 

Modern Nieuport seems to have died in 
a colic. No less homely image expresses 
the contractions and contortions of the 
houses reaching out the appeal of their 
desperate chimney-pots and agonized gir- 
ders. There is one view along the exterior 
of the town like nothing else on the war- 
front. On the left, a line of palsied houses 
leads up like a string of crutch-propped beg- 
gars to the mighty ruin of the Templars' 
Tower; on the right the flats reach away 
to the almost imperceptible humps of 
masonry that were once the villages of St. 
Georges, Ramscappelle, Pervyse. And over 
it all the incessant crash of the guns 
stretches a sounding-board of steel. 

In front of the cathedral a German 
shell has dug a crater thirty feet across, 
overhung by splintered tree-trunks, burnt 
shrubs, vague mounds of rubbish; and a 
few steps beyond lies the peacefulest 
spot in Nieuport, the grave-yard where 
the zouaves have buried their comrades. 



168 FIGHTING FRANCE 

The dead are laid in rows under the flank 
of the cathedral, and on their carefully 
set grave-stones have been placed collec- 
tions of pious images gathered from the 
ruined houses. Some of the most privileged 
are guarded by colonies of plaster saints 
and Virgins that cover the whole slab; and 
over the handsomest Virgins and the most 
gaily coloured saints the soldiers have 
placed the glass bells that once protected 
the parlour clocks and wedding-wreaths 
in the same houses. 

From sad Nieuport we motored on to 
a little seaside colony where gaiety pre- 
vails. Here the big hotels and the ad- 
joining villas along the beach are filled 
with troops just back from the trenches: 
it is one of the "rest cures" of the front. 
When we drove up, the regiment "au 
repos" was assembled in the wide sandy 
space between the principal hotels, and 
in the centre of the jolly crowd the band 
was playing. The Colonel and his officers 



IN THE NORTH 169 

stood listening to the music, and presently 
the soldiers broke into the wild "chan- 
son des zouaves" of the th zouaves. 

It was the strangest of sights to watch 
that throng of dusky merry faces under 
their red fezes against the background 
of sunless northern sea. When the music 
was over some one with a kodak sug- 
gested "a group": we struck a collective 
attitude on one of the hotel terraces, and 
just as the camera was being aimed at us 
the Colonel turned and drew into the 
foreground a little grinning pock-marked 
soldier. "He's just been decorated — he's 
got to be in the group." A general ex- 
clamation of assent from the other officers, 
and a protest from the hero: "Me? Why, 
m y u gly mug will smash the plate!" But 

it didn't 

Reluctantly we turned from this in- 
terval in the day's sad round, and took 
the road to La Panne. Dust, dunes, de- 
serted villages: my memory keeps no more 



170 FIGHTING FRANCE 

definite vision of the run. But at sunset 
we came on a big seaside colony stretched 
out above the longest beach I ever saw: 
along the sea-front, an esplanade bor- 
dered by the usual foolish villas, and be- 
hind it a single street filled with hotels 
and shops. All the life of the desert region 
we had traversed seemed to have taken 
refuge at La Panne. The long street was 
swarming with throngs of dark-uniformed 
Belgian soldiers, every shop seemed to be 
doing a thriving trade, and the hotels 
looked as full as beehives. 

June 23rd La Panne. 
The particular hive that has taken us 
in is at the extreme end of the esplan- 
ade, where asphalt and iron railings lapse 
abruptly into sand and sea-grass. When 
I looked out of my window this morning 
I saw only the endless stretch of brown 
sand against the grey roll of the Northern 
Ocean, and, on a crest of the dunes, the 



IN THE NORTH 171 

figure of a solitary sentinel. But presently 
there was a sound of martial music, and 
long lines of troops came marching along 
the esplanade and down to the beach. 
The sands stretched away to east and west, 
a great "field of Mars" on which an army 
could have manoeuvred; and the morning 
exercises of cavalry and infantry began. 
Against the brown beach the regiments in 
their dark uniforms looked as black as 
silhouettes; and the cavalry galloping by 
in single file suggested a black frieze of 
warriors encircling the dun-coloured flanks 
of an Etruscan vase. For hours these long- 
drawn-out movements of troops went on, 
to the wail of bugles, and under the eye 
of the lonely sentinel on the sand-crest; 
then the soldiers poured back into the 
town, and La Panne was once more a busy 
common-place bain-de-mer. The common- 
placeness, however, was only on the sur- 
face; for as one walked along the esplanade 
one discovered that the town had become a 



172 FIGHTING FRANCE 

citadel, and that all the doll's-house villas 
with their silly gables and sillier names — 
"Seaweed," "The Sea-gull," "MonRepos," 
and the rest — were really a continuous 
line of barracks swarming with Belgian 
troops. In the main street there were hun- 
dreds of soldiers, pottering along in couples, 
chatting in groups, romping and wrestling 
like a crowd of school-boys, or bargaining 
in the shops for shell-work souvenirs and 
sets of post-cards; and between the dark- 
green and crimson uniforms w r as a frequent 
sprinkling of khaki, with the occasional 
pale blue of a French officer's tunic. 

Before luncheon we motored over to 
Dunkerque. The road runs along the ca- 
nal, between grass-flats and prosperous vil- 
lages. No signs of war were noticeable 
except on the road, which was crowded 
with motor vans, ambulances and troops. 
The walls and gates of Dunkerque rose 
before us as calm and undisturbed as when 
we entered the town the day before yes- 




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A street at Nieuport. 



IN THE NORTH 173 

terday. But within the gates we were in' a 
desert. The bombardment had ceased the 
previous evening, but a death-hush lay on 
the town, Every house was shuttered and 
the streets were empty. We drove to the 
Place Jean Bart, where two days ago we 
sat at tea in the hall of the hotel. Now there 
was not a whole pane of glass in the win- 
dows of the square, the doors of the hotel 
were closed, and every now and then some 
one came out carrying a basketful of plas- 
ter from fallen ceilings. The whole surface 
of the square was literally paved with bits 
of glass from the hundreds of broken win- 
dows, and at the foot of David's statue of 
Jean Bart, just where our motor had stood 
while we had tea, the siege-gun of Dix- 
mude had scooped out a hollow as big as 
the crater at Nieuport. 

Though not a house on the square was 
touched, the scene was one of unmitigated 
desolation. It was the first time we had 
seen the raw wounds of a bombardment, 



174 FIGHTING FRANCE 

and the freshness of the havoc seemed to 
accentuate its cruelty. We wandered down 
the street behind the hotel to the graceful 
Gothic church of St. Eloi, of which one 
aisle had been shattered; then, turning an- 
other corner, we came on a poor bourgeois 
house that had had its whole front torn 
away. The squalid revelation of caved-in 
floors, smashed wardrobes, dangling bed- 
steads, heaped-up blankets, topsy-turvy 
chairs and stoves and wash-stands w T as far 
more painful than the sight of the wounded 
church. St. Eloi was draped in the dignity 
of martyrdom, but the poor little house re- 
minded one of some shy humdrum person 
suddenly exposed in the glare of a great 
misfortune. 

A few people stood in clusters looking up 
at the ruins, or strayed aimlessly about the 
streets. Not a loud word was heard. The 
air seemed heavy with the suspended breath 
of a great city's activities: the mournful 
hush of Dunkerque was even more oppres- 



IN THE NORTH 175 

sive than the death-silence of Ypres. But 
when we came back to the Place Jean Bart 
the unbreakable human spirit had begun 
to reassert itself. A handful of children were 
playing in the bottom of the crater, col- 
lecting "specimens" of glass and splintered 
brick; and about its rim the market-people, 
quietly and as a matter of course, were set- 
ting up their wooden stalls. In a few min- 
utes the signs of German havoc would 
be hidden behind stacks of crockery and 
household utensils, and some of the pale 
women we had left in mournful contem- 
plation of the ruins would be bargaining 
as sharply as ever for a sauce-pan or a 
butter-tub. Not once but a hundred times 
has the attitude of the average French 
civilian near the front reminded me of the 
gallant cry of Calanthea in The Broken 
Heart: "Let me die smiling!" I should 
have liked to stop and spend all I had in 
the market of Dunkerque. . . 

All the afternoon we wandered about 



176 FIGHTING FRANCE 

La Panne. The exercises of the troops 
had begun again, - and the deploying of 
those endless black lines along the beach 
was a sight of the strangest beauty. The 
sun was veiled, and heavy surges rolled in 
under a northerly gale. Toward evening 
the sea turned to cold tints of jade and 
pearl and tarnished silver. Far down the 
beach a mysterious fleet of fishing boats 
was drawn up on the sand, with black 
sails bellying in the wind; and the black 
riders galloping by might have landed 
from them, and been riding into the sun- 
set out of some wild northern legend. 
Presently a knot of buglers took up their 
stand on the edge of the sea, facing in- 
ward, their feet in the surf, and began to 
play; and their call was like the call of 
Roland's horn, when he blew it down the 
pass against the heathen. On the sand- 
crest below my window the lonely sentinel 
still watched. . . 



IN THE NORTH 177 

June 24th. 
It is like coming down from the moun- 
tains to leave the front. I never had the 
feeling more strongly than when we passed 
out of Belgium this afternoon. I had it 
most strongly as we drove by a cluster of 
villas standing apart in a sterile region of 
sea-grass and sand. In one of those villas 
for nearly a year, two hearts at the high- 
est pitch of human constancy have held 
up a light to the world. It is impossible 
to pass that house without a sense of awe. 
Because of the light that comes from it, 
dead faiths have come to life, weak con- 
victions have grown strong, fiery impulses 
have turned to long endurance, and long 
endurance has kept the fire of impulse. In 
the harbour of New York there is a pom- 
pous statue of a goddess with a torch, 
designated as "Liberty enlightening the 
World." It seems as though the title on 
her pedestal might well, for the time, be 



178 FIGHTING FRANCE 

transferred to the lintel of that villa in 
the dunes. 

On leaving St. Omer we took a short 
cut southward across rolling country. It 
was a happy accident that caused us to 
leave the main road, for presently, over the 
crest of a hill, we saw surging toward us 
a mighty movement of British and Indian 
troops. A great bath of silver sunlight lay 
on the wheat-fields, the clumps of woodland 
and the hilly blue horizon, and in that 
slanting radiance the cavalry rode toward 
us, regiment after regiment of slim turbaned 
Indians, with delicate proud faces like 
the faces of Princes in Persian miniatures. 
Then came a long train of artillery; splen- 
did horses, clattering gun-carriages, clear- 
faced English youths galloping by all 
aglow in the sunset. The stream of them 
seemed never-ending. Now and then it 
was checked by a train of ambulances 
and supply-waggons, or caught and con- 



IN THE NORTH 179 

gested in the crooked streets of a village 
where children and girls had come out with 
bunches of flowers, and bakers were selling 
hot loaves to the sutlers; and when we 
had extricated our motor from the crowd, 
and climbed another hill, we came on an- 
other cavalcade surging toward us through 
the wheat-fields. For over an hour the 
procession poured by, so like and yet so 
unlike the French division we had met on 
the move as we went north a few days 
ago; so that we seemed to have passed to 
the northern front, and away from it again, 
through a great flashing gateway in the 
long wall of armies guarding the civilized 
world from the North Sea to the Vosges. 



IN ALSACE 



IN ALSACE 

August 13th, 1915. 
TVyTY trip to the east began by a dash 
-**▼-■- toward the north. Near Rheims is a 
little town — hardly more than a village, 
but in English we have no intermediate 
terms such as "bourg" and "petit bourg" 
— where one of the new Red Cross sanitary 
motor units was to be seen "in action." 
The inspection over, we climbed to a vine- 
yard above the town and looked down at 
a river valley traversed by a double line 
of trees. The first line marked the canal, 
which is held by the French, who have 
gun-boats on it. Behind this ran the high- 
road, with the first-line French trenches, 
and just above, on the opposite slope, were 
the German lines. The soil being chalky, 
the German positions were clearly marked 

183 



184 FIGHTING FRANCE 

by two parallel white scorings across the 
brown hill-front; and while we watched we 
heard desultory firing, and saw, here and 
there along the ridge, the smoke-puff of an 
exploding shell. It was incredibly strange 
to stand there, among the vines humming 
with summer insects, and to look out over 
a peaceful country heavy with the coming 
vintage, knowing that the trees at our feet 
hid a line of gun-boats that were crashing 
death into those two white scorings on the 
hill. 

Rheims itself brings one nearer to the 
war by its look of deathlike desolation. 
The paralysis of the bombarded towns is 
one of the most tragic results of the in- 
vasion. One's soul revolts at this senseless 
disorganizing of innumerable useful activ- 
ities. Compared with the towns of the 
north, Rheims is relatively unharmed; but 
for that very reason the arrest of life seems 
the more futile and cruel. The Cathedral 
square was deserted, all the houses around 



IN ALSACE 185 

it were closed. And there, before us, rose 
the Cathedral — a cathedral, rather, for it 
was not the one we had always known. It 
was, in fact, not like any cathedral on 
earth. When the German bombardment 
began, the west front of Rheims was cov- 
ered with scaffolding: the shells set it on 
fire, and the whole church was wrapped in 
flames. Now the scaffolding is gone, and in 
the dull provincial square there stands a 
structure so strange and beautiful that 
one must search the Inferno, or some tale 
of Eastern magic, for words to picture the 
luminous unearthly vision. The lower part 
of the front has been warmed to deep tints 
of umber and burnt siena. This rich burn- 
ishing passes, higher up, through yellowish- 
pink and carmine, to a sulphur whitening 
to ivory; and the recesses of the portals and 
the hollows behind the statues are lined 
with a black denser and more velvety than 
any effect of shadow to be obtained by 
sculptured relief. The interweaving of col- 



186 FIGHTING FRANCE 

our over the whole blunted bruised surface 
recalls the metallic tints, the peacock-and- 
pigeon iridescences, the incredible mingling 
of red, blue, umber and yellow of the rocks 
along the Gulf of ^Egina. And the wonder 
of the impression is increased by the sense 
of its evanescence; the knowledge that this 
is the beauty of disease and death, that 
every one of the transfigured statues must 
crumble under the autumn rains, that 
every one of the pink or golden stones is 
already eaten away to the core, that the 
Cathedral of Rheims is glowing and dying 
before us like a sunset. . . 

August 14th. 

A stone and brick chateau in a flat park 
with a stream running through it. Pampas- 
grass, geraniums, rustic bridges, winding 
paths: how bourgeois and sleepy it would 
all seem but for the sentinel challenging 
our motor at the gate ! 

Before the door a collie dozing in the sun, 



IN ALSACE 187 

and a group of staff-officers waiting for 
luncheon. Indoors, a room with handsome 
tapestries, some good furniture and a table 
spread with the usual military maps and 
aeroplane-photographs. At luncheon, the 
General, the chiefs of the staff — a dozen 
in all — and an officer from the General 
Head-quarters. The usual atmosphere of 
camaraderie, confidence, good-humour, and 
a kind of cheerful seriousness that I have 
come to regard as characteristic of the men 
immersed in the actual facts of the war. I 
set down this impression as typical of many 
such luncheon hours along the front. . . 

August 15th. 
This morning we set out for reconquered 
iUsace. For reasons unexplained to the 
civilian this corner of old-new France has 
hitherto been inaccessible, even to highly 
placed French officials; and there w r as a 
special sense of excitement in taking the 
road that led to it. 



188 FIGHTING FRANCE 

We slipped through a valley or two, 
passed some placid villages with vine- 
covered gables, and noticed that most of 
the signs over the shops were German. We 
had crossed the old frontier unawares, and 
were presently in the charming town of 
Massevaux. It was the Feast of the As- 
sumption, and mass was just over when we 
reached the square before the church. The 
streets were full of holiday people, well- 
dressed, smiling, seemingly unconscious of 
the war. Down the church-steps, guided by 
fond mammas, came little girls in white 
dresses, with white wreaths in their hair, 
and carrying, in baskets slung over their 
shoulders, woolly lambs or blue and white 
Virgins. Groups of cavalry officers stood 
chatting with civilians in their Sunday best, 
and through the windows of the Golden 
Eagle we saw active preparations for a 
crowded mid-day dinner. It was all as 
happy and parochial as a "Hansi" picture, 
and the fine old gabled houses and clean 



IN ALSACE 189 

cobblestone streets made the traditional 
setting for an Alsacian holiday. 

At the Golden Eagle we laid in a store of 
provisions, and started out across the 
mountains in the direction of Thann. The 
Vosges, at this season, are in their short 
midsummer beauty, rustling with streams, 
dripping with showers, balmy with the 
smell of firs and bracken, and of purple 
thyme on hot banks. We reached the top 
of a ridge, and, hiding the motor behind a 
skirt of trees, went out into the open to 
lunch on a sunny slope. Facing us across 
the valley was a tall conical hill clothed 
with forest. That hill was Hartmannswil- 
lerkopf, the centre of a long contest in 
which the French have lately been victori- 
ous; and all about us stood other crests and 
ridges from which German guns still look 
down on the valley of Thann. 

Thann itself is at the valley-head, in a 
neck between hills; a handsome old town, 
with the air of prosperous stability so oddly 



190 FIGHTING FRANCE 

characteristic of this tormented region. 
As we drove through the main street the 
pall of war-sadness fell on us again, darken- 
ing the light and chilling the summer air. 
Thann is raked by the German lines, and 
its windows are mostly shuttered and its 
streets deserted. One or two houses in the 
Cathedral square have been gutted, but the 
somewhat over-pinnacled and statued cathe- 
dral which is the pride of Thann is almost 
untouched, and when we entered it vespers 
were being sung, and a few people — mostly 
in black — knelt in the nave. 

No greater contrast could be imagined to 
the happy feast-day scene we had left, a 
few miles off, at Massevaux; but Thann, in 
spite of its empty streets, is not a deserted 
city. A vigorous life beats in it, ready to 
break forth as soon as the German guns are 
silenced. The French administration, work- 
ing on the best of terms with the popula- 
tion, are keeping up the civil activities of 
the town as the Canons of the Cathedral 



IN ALSACE 191 

are continuing the rites of the Church. 
Many inhabitants still remain behind their 
closed shutters and dive down into their 
cellars when the shells begin to crash; and 
the schools, transferred to a neighbouring 
village, number over two thousand pupils. 
We walked through the town, visited a 
vast catacomb of a wine-cellar fitted up 
partly as an ambulance and partly as a 
shelter for the cellarless, and saw the lam- 
entable remains of the industrial quarter 
along the river, which has been the special 
target of the German guns. Thann has been 
industrially ruined, all its mills are wrecked; 
but unlike the towns of the north it has 
had the good fortune to preserve its out- 
line, its civic personality, a face that its 
children, when they come back, can rec- 
ognize and take comfort in. 

After our visit to the ruins, a diversion 
was suggested by the amiable adminis- 
trators of Thann who had guided our 
sight-seeing. They were just off for a mili- 



192 FIGHTING FRANCE 

tary tournament which the th dragoons 

were giving that afternoon in a neighbour- 
ing valley, and we w T ere invited to go with 
them. 

The scene of the entertainment was a 
meadow enclosed in an amphitheatre of 
rocks, with grassy ledges projecting from 
the cliff like tiers of opera-boxes. These 
points of vantage were partly occupied by 
interested spectators and partly by rumi- 
nating cattle; on the lowest slope, the rank 
and fashion of the neighbourhood was ranged 
on a semi-circle of chairs, and below, in 
the meadow, a lively steeple-chase was 
going on. The riding was extremely pretty, 
as French military riding always is. Few 
of the mounts were thoroughbreds — the 
greater number, in fact, being local cart- 
horses barely broken to the saddle — but 
their agility and dash did the greater credit 
to their riders. The lancers, in particular, 
executed an effective "musical ride" about 
a central pennon, to the immense satisfac- 



IN ALSACE 193 

tion of the fashionable public in the fore- 
ground and of the gallery on the rocks. 

The audience was even more interesting 
than the artists. Chatting with the ladies 
in the front row were the General of di- 
vision and his staff, groups of officers in- 
vited from the adjoining Head-quarters, and 
most of the civil and military adminis- 
trators of the restored " Depart ement du 
Haut Rhin." All classes had turned out in 
honour of the fete, and every one was in a 
holiday mood. The people among whom 
we sat were mostly Alsatian property- 
owners, many of them industrials of Thann. 
Some had been driven from their homes, 
others had seen their mills destroyed, all 
had been living for a year on the perilous 
edge of war, under the menace of reprisals 
too hideous to picture; yet the humour 
prevailing was that of any group of merry- 
makers in a peaceful garrison town. I have 
seen nothing, in my wanderings along the 
front, more indicative of the good-breeding 



194 FIGHTING FRANCE 

of the French than the spirit of the ladies 
and gentlemen who sat chatting with the 
officers on that grassy slope of Alsace. 

The display of haute ecole was to be fol- 
lowed by an exhibition of "transportation 
throughout the ages," headed by a Gaulish 
chariot driven by a trooper with a long 
horsehair moustache and mistletoe wreath, 
and ending in a motor of which the engine 
had been taken out and replaced by a large 
placid white horse. Unluckily a heavy rain 
began while this instructive "number" 
awaited its turn, and we had to leave be- 
fore Vercingetorix had led his warriors into 
the ring. . . 

August 16th. 
Up and up into the mountains. We 
started early, taking our way along a nar- 
row interminable valley that sloped up 
gradually toward the east. The road was 
encumbered with a stream of hooded supply 
vans drawn by mules, for we were on the 



IN ALSACE 195 

way to one of the main positions in the 
Vosges, and this train of provisions is kept 
up day and night. Finally we reached a 
mountain village under fir-clad slopes, with 
a cold stream rushing down from the hills. 
On one side of the road was a rustic inn, 
on the other, among the firs, a chalet occu- 
pied by the brigade Head-quarters. Every- 
where about us swarmed the little "chas- 
seurs Alpins" in blue Tarn o'Shanters and 
leather gaiters. For a year we had been 
reading of these heroes of the hills, and here 
we were among them, looking into their 
thin weather-beaten faces and meeting the 
twinkle of their friendly eyes. Very friendly 
they all were, and yet, for Frenchmen, in- 
articulate and shy. All over the world, no 
doubt, the mountain silences breed this 
kind of reserve, this shrinking from the 
glibness of the valleys. Yet one had fancied 
that French fluency must soar as high as 
Mont Blanc. 

Mules were brought, and we started on a 



196 FIGHTING FRANCE 

long ride up the mountain. The way led 
first over open ledges, with deep views into 
valleys blue with distance, then through 
miles of forest, first of beech and fir, and 
finally all of fir. Above the road the wooded 
slopes rose interminably and here and 
there we came on tiers of mules, three or 
four hundred together, stabled under the 
trees, in stalls dug out of different levels of 
the slope. Near by were shelters for the 
men, and perhaps at the next bend a vil- 
lage of "trappers' huts," as the officers call 
the log-cabins they build in this region. 
These colonies are always bustling with 
life: men busy cleaning their arms, hauling 
material for new cabins, washing or mending 
their clothes, or carrying down the moun- 
tain from the camp-kitchen the two-han- 
dled pails full of steaming soup. The kitchen 
is always in the most protected quarter of 
the camp, and generally at some distance 
in the rear. Other soldiers, their job over, 
are lolling about in groups, smoking, gos- 



IN ALSACE 197 

siping or writing home, the "Soldiers' 
Letter-pad" propped on a patched blue 
knee, a scarred fist laboriously driving the 
fountain pen received in hospital. Some are 
leaning over the shoulder of a pal who has 
just received a Paris paper, others chuck- 
ling together at the jokes of their own 
French journal — the "Echo du Ravin," 
the "Journal des Poilus," or the "Diable 
Bleu": little papers ground out in pur- 
plish script on foolscap, and adorned with 
comic-sketches and a wealth of local hu- 
mour. 

Higher up, under a fir-belt, at the edge 
of a meadow, the officer who rode ahead 
signed to us to dismount and scramble after 
him. We plunged under the trees, into 
what seemed a thicker thicket, and found 
it to be a thatch of branches woven to 
screen the muzzles of a battery. The big 
guns were all about us, crouched in these 
sylvan lairs like wild beasts waiting to 
spring; and near each gun hovered its at- 



198 FIGHTING FRANCE 

tendant gunner, proud, possessive, impor- 
tant as a bridegroom with his bride. 

We climbed and climbed again, reach- 
ing at last a sun-and-wind-burnt common 
which forms the top of one of the highest 
mountains in the region. The forest was 
left below us and only a belt of dwarf firs 
ran along the edge of the great grassy 
shoulder. We dismounted, the mules were 
tethered among the trees, and our guide 
led us to an insignificant looking stone in 
the grass. On one face of the stone was cut 
the letter F., on the other was a D.; we 
stood on what, till a year ago, was the 
boundary line between Republic and Em- 
pire. Since then, in certain places, the line 
has been bent back a long way; but where 
we stood we were still under German guns, 
and we had to creep along in the shelter of 
the squat firs to reach the outlook on the 
edge of the plateau. From there, under a 
sky of racing clouds, we saw outstretched 
below us the Promised Land of Alsace. 



IN ALSACE 199 

On one horizon, far off in the plain, gleamed 
the roofs and spires of Colmar, on the other 
rose the purplish heights beyond the Rhine. 
Near by stood a ring of bare hills, those 
closest to us scarred by ridges of upheaved 
earth, as if giant moles had been zig- 
zagging over them; and just under us, in a 
little green valley, lay the roofs of a peace- 
ful village. The earth-ridges and the peace- 
ful village were still German ; but the French 
positions went down the mountain, almost 
to the valley's edge; and one dark peak on 
the right was already French. 

We stopped at a gap in the firs and 
walked to the brink of the plateau. Just 
under us lay a rock-rimmed lake. More 
zig-zag earthworks surmounted it on all 
sides, and on the nearest shore was the 
branched roofing of another great mule- 
shelter. We were looking down at the spot 
to which the night-caravans of the Chas- 
seurs Alpins descend to distribute supplies 
to the fighting line. 



200 FIGHTING FRANCE 

"Who goes there? Attention! You're 
in sight of the lines!" a voice called out 
from the firs, and our companion signed 
to us to move back. We had been rather 
too conspicuously facing the German bat- 
teries on the opposite slope, and our pres- 
ence might have drawn their fire on an 
artillery observation post installed near by. 
We retreated hurriedly and unpacked our 
luncheon-basket on the more sheltered side 
of the ridge. As we sat there in the grass, 
swept by a great mountain breeze full of 
the scent of thyme and myrtle, while the 
flutter of birds, the hum of insects, the 
still and busy life of the hills went on all 
about us in the sunshine, the pressure of 
the encircling line of death grew more in- 
tolerably real. It is not in the mud and 
jokes and every-day activities of the 
trenches that one most feels the damnable 
insanity of war; it is where it lurks like a 
mythical monster in scenes to which the 
mind has alwavs turned for rest. 



*£<*'JK 



IN ALSACE 201 

We had not yet made the whole tour of 
the mountain-top; and after luncheon we 
rode over to a point where a long narrow 
yoke connects it with a spur projecting 
directly above the German lines. We left 
our mules in hiding and walked along the 
yoke, a mere knife-edge of rock rimmed with 
dwarf vegetation. Suddenly we heard an 
explosion behind us: one of the batteries 
we had passed on the way up was giving 
tongue. The German lines roared back and 
for twenty minutes the exchange of invec- 
tive thundered on. The firing was almost 
incessant; it seemed as if a great arch of 
steel were being built up above us in the 
crystal air. And we could follow each curve 
of sound from its incipience to its final 
crash in the trenches. There were four dis- 
tinct phases: the sharp bang from the can- 
non, the long furious howl overhead, the 
dispersed and spreading noise of the shell's 
explosion, and then the roll of its reverber- 
ation from cliff to cliff. This is what we 



202 FIGHTING FRANCE 

heard as we crouched in the lee of the firs: 
what we saw when we looked out between 
them was only an occasional burst of white 
smoke and red flame from one hillside, and 
on the opposite one, a minute later, a 
brown geyser of dust. 

Presently a deluge of rain descended on 
us, driving us back to our mules, and down 
the nearest mountain-trail through rivers 
of mud. It rained all the way: rained in 
such floods and cataracts that the very 
rocks of the mountain seemed to dissolve 
and turn into mud. As we slid down through 
it we met strings of Chasseurs Alpins com- 
ing up, splashed to the waist w^ith wet red 
clay, and leading pack-mules so coated 
with it that they looked like studio models 
from which the sculptor has just pulled off 
the dripping sheet. Lower down we came 
on more "trapper" settlements, so satu- 
rated and reeking with wet that they gave 
us a glimpse of what the winter months on 
the front must be. No more cheerful polish- 



IN ALSACE 203 

ing of fire-arms, hauling of faggots, chatting 
and smoking in sociable groups: everybody 
had crept under the doubtful shelter of 
branches and tarpaulins; the whole army 
was back in its burrows. 

August 17th. 

Sunshine again for our arrival at Belfort. 
The invincible city lies unpretentiously be- 
hind its green glacis and escutcheoned gates ; 
but the guardian Lion under the Citadel — ■ 
well, the Lion is figuratively as well as 
literally a la hauteur. With the sunset flush 
on him, as he crouched aloft in his red lair 
below the fort, he might almost have 
claimed kin with his mighty prototypes of 
the Assarbanipal frieze. One wondered a 
little, seeing whose work he was; but prob- 
ably it is easier for an artist to symbolize 
an heroic town than the abstract and elu- 
sive divinity who sheds light on the world 
from New York harbour. 

From Belfort back into reconquered Al- 



204 FIGHTING FRANCE 

sace the road runs through a gentle land- 
scape of fields and orchards. We were 
bound for Dannemarie, one of the towns of 
the plain, and a centre of the new adminis- 
tration. It is the usual "gros bourg" of 
Alsace, with comfortable old houses in 
espaliered gardens: dull, well-to-do, con- 
tented; not in the least the kind of setting 
demanded by the patriotism which has to 
be fed on pictures of little girls singing the 
Marseillaise in Alsatian head-dresses and 
old men with operatic waistcoats tottering 
forward to kiss the flag. What we saw at 
Dannemarie was less conspicuous to the 
eye but much more nourishing to the imag- 
ination. The military and civil adminis- 
trators had the kindness and patience to 
explain their work and show us something 
of its results; and the visit left one with the 
impression of a slow and quiet process of 
adaptation wisely planned and fruitfully 
carried out. We did, in fact, hear the 
school-girls of Dannemarie sing the Mar- 



IN ALSACE 205 

seillaise — and the boys too — but, what 
was far more interesting, we saw them 
studying under the direction of the teachers 
who had always had them in charge, and 
found that everywhere it had been the 
aim of the French officials to let the routine 
of the village policy go on undisturbed. 
The German signs remain over the shop- 
fronts except where the shop-keepers have 
chosen to paint them out; as is happening 
more and more frequently. When a func- 
tionary has to be replaced he is chosen 
from the same town or the same district, 
and even the "personnel of the civil and 
military administration is mainly composed 
of officers and civilians of Alsatian stock. 
The heads of both these departments, who 
accompanied us on our rounds, could talk 
to the children and old people in German 
as well as in their local dialect; and, as 
far as a passing observer could discern, it 
seemed as though everything had been done 
to reduce to a minimum the sense of 



206 FIGHTING FRANCE 

strangeness and friction which is inevi- 
table in the transition from one rule to an- 
other. The interesting point was that this 
exercise of tact and tolerance seemed to 
proceed not from any pressure of expediency 
but from a sympathetic understanding of 
the point of view of this people of the 
border. I heard in Dannemarie not a sylla- 
ble of lyrical patriotism or post-card senti- 
mentality, but only a kindly and impartial 
estimate of facts as they were and must be 
dealt w T ith. 

August 18th. 
Today again we started early for the 
mountains. Our road ran more to the west- 
ward, through the heart of the Vosges, and 
up to a fold of the hills near the borders of 
Lorraine. We stopped at a Head-quarters 
where a young officer of dragoons was to 
join us, and learned from him that we were 
to be allowed to visit some of the first-line 
trenches which we had looked out on from 



IN ALSACE 207 

a high-perched observation post on our 
former visit to the Vosges. Violent fighting 
was going on in that particular region, and 
after a climb of an hour or two we had to 
leave the motor at a sheltered angle of the 
road and strike across the hills on foot. 
Our path lay through the forest, and every 
now and then we caught a glimpse of the 
high-road running below us in full view of 
the German batteries. Presently we reached 
a point where the road was screened by a 
thick growth of trees behind which an ob- 
servation post had been set up. We scram- 
bled down and looked through the peep- 
hole. Just below us lay a valley with a 
village in its centre, and to the left and 
right of the village were two hills, the one 
scored with French, the other with German 
trenches. The village, at first sight, looked 
as normal as those through which we had 
been passing; but a closer inspection showed 
that its steeple was shattered and that 
some of its houses were unroofed. Part of 



208 FIGHTING FRANCE 

it was held by German, part by French 
troops. The cemetery adjoining the church, 
and a quarry just under it, belonged to 
the Germans; but a line of French trenches 
ran from the farther side of the church up 
to the French batteries on the right hand 
hill. Parallel with this line, but starting 
from the other side of the village, was a 
hollow lane leading up to a single tree. 
This lane was a German trench, protected 
by the guns of the left hand hill; and be- 
tween the two lay perhaps fifty yards of 
ground. All this was close under us; and 
closer still was a slope of open ground 
leading up to the village and traversed by 
a rough cart-track. Along this track in the 
hot sunshine little French soldiers, the size 
of tin toys, were scrambling up with bags 
and loads of faggots, their ant-like activity 
as orderly and untroubled as if the two 
armies had not lain trench to trench a few 
yards away. It was one of those strange 
and contradictory scenes of war that bring 



IN ALSACE 209 

home to the bewildered looker-on the utter 
impossibility of picturing how the thing 
really happens. 

While we stood w T atching we heard the 
sudden scream of a battery close above us. 
The crest of the hill we were climbing was 
alive with "Seventy-fives," and the pierc- 
ing noise seemed to burst out at our very 
backs. It w r as the most terrible war-shriek 
I had heard: a kind of wolfish baying that 
called up an image of all the dogs of war 
simultaneously tugging at their leashes. 
There is a dreadful majesty in the sound of 
a distant cannonade; but these yelps and 
hisses roused only thoughts of horror. And 
there, on the opposite slope, the black and 
brown geysers were beginning to spout up 
from the German trenches; and from the 
batteries above them came the puff and 
roar of retaliation. Below us, along the cart- 
track, the little French soldiers continued 
to scramble up peacefully to the dilapi- 
dated village; and presently a group of offi- 



210 FIGHTING FRANCE 

cers of dragoons, emerging from the wood, 
came down to welcome us to their Head- 
quarters. 

We continued to climb through the for- 
est, the cannonade still whistling overhead, 
till we reached the most elaborate trapper 
colony we had yet seen. Half underground, 
walled with logs, and deeply roofed by sods 
tufted with ferns and moss, the cabins 
were scattered under the trees and con- 
nected with each other by paths bordered 
with white stones. Before the Colonel's 
cabin the soldiers had made a banked-up 
flower-bed sown with annuals; and farther 
up the slope stood a log chapel, a mere 
gable with a wooden altar under it, all 
tapestried with ivy and holly. Near by was 
the chaplain's subterranean dwelling. It 
was reached by a deep cutting with ivy- 
covered sides, and ivy and fir-boughs 
masked the front. This sylvan retreat had 
just been completed, and the officers, the 
chaplain, and the soldiers loitering near by, 



IN ALSACE 211 

were all equally eager to have it seen and 
hear it praised. 

The commanding officer, having done the 
honours of the camp, led us about a quarter 
of a mile down the hillside to an open 
cutting which marked the beginning of the 
trenches. From the cutting we passed into 
a long tortuous burrow walled and roofed 
with carefully fitted logs. The earth floor 
was covered by a sort of wooden lattice. 
The only light entering this tunnel was a 
faint ray from an occasional narrow slit 
screened by branches; and beside each of 
these peep-holes hung a shield-shaped metal 
shutter to be pushed over it in case of 
emergency. 

The passage wound down the hill, almost 
doubling on itself, in order to give a view 
of all the surrounding lines. Presently the 
roof became much higher, and we saw on 
one side a curtained niche about five feet 
above the floor. One of the officers pulled 
the curtain back, and there, on a narrow 



212 FIGHTING FRANCE 

shelf, a gun between his knees, sat a 
dragoon, his eyes on a peep-hole. The cur- 
tain was hastily drawn again behind his 
motionless figure, lest the faint light at his 
back should betray him. We passed by 
several of these helmeted watchers, and 
now and then we came to a deeper recess 
in which a mitrailleuse squatted, its black 
nose thrust through a net of branches. 
Sometimes the roof of the tunnel was so 
low that we had to bend nearly double: and 
at intervals we came to heavy doors, made 
of logs and sheeted with iron, which shut 
off one section from another. It is hard to 
guess the distance one covers in creeping 
through an unlit passage with different 
levels and countless turnings; but we must 
have descended the hillside for at least a 
mile before we came out into a half-ruined 
farmhouse. This building, which had kept 
nothing but its outer walls and one or two 
partitions between the rooms, had been 
transformed into an observation post. In 



IN ALSACE 213 

each of its corners a ladder led up to a 
little shelf on the level of what was once 
the second story, and on the shelf sat a 
dragoon at his peep-hole. Below, in the 
dilapidated rooms, the usual life of a camp 
was going on. Some of the soldiers were 
playing cards at a kitchen table, others 
mending their clothes, or writing letters 
or chuckling together (not too loud) over 
a comic newspaper. It might have been 
a scene anywhere along the second-line 
trenches but for the lowered voices, the 
suddenness with which I was drawn back 
from a slit in the wall through which I had 
incautiously peered, and the presence of 
these helmeted watchers overhead. 

We plunged underground again and be- 
gan to descend through another darker and 
narrower tunnel. In the upper one there 
had been one or two roofless stretches 
where one could straighten one's back and 
breathe; but here we were in pitch black- 
ness, and saved from breaking our necks 



214 FIGHTING FRANCE 

only by the gleam of the pocket-light which 
the young lieutenant who led the party 
shed on our path. As he whisked it up and 
down to warn us of sudden steps or sharp 
corners he remarked that at night even 
this faint glimmer was forbidden, and that 
it was a bad job going back and forth from 
the last outpost till one had learned the 
turnings. 

The last outpost was a half-ruined farm- 
house like the other. A telephone con- 
nected it with Head-quarters and more 
dumb dragoons sat motionless on their 
lofty shelves. The house w^as shut off from 
the tunnel by an armoured door, and the 
orders were that in case of attack that door 
should be barred from within and the ac- 
cess to the tunnel defended to the death by 
the men in the outpost. We were on the 
extreme verge of the defences, on a slope 
just above the village over which we had 
heard the artillery roaring a few hours 
earlier. The spot where we stood was raked 



IN ALSACE 215 

on all sides by the enemy's lines, and the 
nearest trenches were only a few yards 
away. But of all this nothing was really per- 
ceptible or comprehensible to me. As far 
as my own observation went, we might have 
been a hundred miles from the valley we 
had looked down on, where the French sol- 
diers were walking peacefully up the cart- 
track in the sunshine. I only knew that we 
had come out of a black labyrinth into a 
gutted house among fruit-trees, where sol- 
diers were lounging and smoking, and peo- 
ple whispered as they do about a death-bed. 
Over a break in the walls I saw another 
gutted farmhouse close by in another or- 
chard: it was an enemy outpost, and silent 
watchers in helmets of another shape sat 
there watching on the same high shelves. 
But all this was infinitely less real and 
terrible than the cannonade above the dis- 
puted village. The artillery had ceased 
and the air was full of summer murmurs. 
Close by on a sheltered ledge I saw a patch 



216 FIGHTING FRANCE 

of vineyard with dewy cobwebs hanging to 
the vines. I could not understand where 
we were, or what it was all about, or why a 
shell from the enemy outpost did not sud- 
denly annihilate us. And then, little by 
little, there came over me the sense of that 
mute reciprocal watching from trench to 
trench: the interlocked stare of innumer- 
able pairs of eyes, stretching on, mile after 
mile, along the whole sleepless line from 
Dunkerque to Belfort. 

My last vision of the French front which 
I had travelled from end to end was this 
picture of a shelled house where a few men, 
who sat smoking and playing cards in the 
sunshine, had orders to hold out to the 
death rather than let their fraction of that 
front be broken. 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 

"X TOBODY now asks the question that 
-^ ^ so often, at the beginning of the war, 
came to me from the other side of the 
world: "What is France like? 9 ' Every 
one knows what France has proved to be 
like: from being a difficult problem she 
has long since become a luminous instance. 
Nevertheless, to those on whom that 
illumination has shone only from far off, 
there may still be something to learn about 
its component elements; for it has come to 
consist of many separate rays, and the 
weary strain of the last year has been the 
spectroscope to decompose them. From 
the very beginning, when one felt the ef- 
fulgence as the mere pale brightness before 
dawn, the attempt to define it was irresist- 
ible. "There is a tone — " the tingling sense 
of it was in the air from the first days, the 

219 



220 FIGHTING FRANCE 

first hours — "but what does it consist in ? 
And just how is one aware of it?" In those 
days the answer was comparatively easy. 
The tone of France after the declaration of 
war was the white glow of dedication: a 
great nation's collective impulse (since there 
is no English equivalent for that winged 
word, elan) to resist destruction. But at 
that time no one knew what the resistance 
was to cost, how long it would have to last, 
what sacrifices, material and moral, it would 
necessitate. And for the moment baser sen- 
timents were silenced: greed, self-interest, 
pusillanimity seemed to have been purged 
from the race. The great sitting of the 
Chamber, that almost religious celebration 
of defensive union, really expressed the 
opinion of the whole people. It is fairly 
easy to soar to the empyrean when one is 
carried on the wings of such an impulse, 
and when one does not know how long 
one is to be kept suspended at the breath- 
ing-limit. 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 221 

But there is a term to the flight of the 
most soaring elan. It is likely, after a while, 
to come back broken-winged and resign 
itself to barn-yard bounds. National judg- 
ments cannot remain for long above indi- 
vidual feelings; and you cannot get a na- 
tional "tone" out of anything less than a 
whole nation. The really interesting thing, 
therefore, was to see, as the war went on, 
and grew into a calamity unheard of in 
human annals, how the French spirit would 
meet it, and what virtues extract from it. 

The war has been a calamity unheard of; 
but France has never been afraid of the 
unheard of. No race has ever yet so auda- 
ciously dispensed with old precedents; as 
none has ever so revered their relics. It is 
a great strength to be able to walk without 
the support of analogies; and France has 
always shown that strength in times of 
crisis. The absorbing question, as the war 
went on, was to discover how far down 
into the people this intellectual audacity 



222 FIGHTING FRANCE 

penetrated, how instinctive it had become, 
and how it would endure the strain of pro- 
longed inaction. 

There was never much doubt about the 
army. When a warlike race has an invader 
on its soil, the men holding back the in- 
vader can never be said to be inactive. 
But behind the army were the waiting mil- 
lions to whom that long motionless line 
in the trenches might gradually have be- 
come a mere condition of thought, an ac- 
cepted limitation to all sorts of activities 
and pleasures. The danger was that such a 
war — static, dogged, uneventful — might 
gradually cramp instead of enlarging the 
mood of the lookers-on. Conscription, of 
course, was there to minimize this danger. 
Every one was sharing alike in the glory 
and the woe. But the glory was not of a 
kind to penetrate or dazzle. It requires 
more imagination to see the halo around 
tenacity than around dash; and the French 
still cling to the view that they are, so to 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 223 

speak, the patentees and proprietors of 
dash, and much less at home with his dull 
drudge of a partner. So there was reason 
to fear, in the long run, a gradual but irre- 
sistible disintegration, not of public opin- 
ion, but of something subtler and more 
fundamental: public sentiment. It was pos- 
sible that civilian France, while collectively 
seeming to remain at the same height, might 
individually deteriorate and diminish in its 
attitude toward the war. 

The French would not be human, and 
therefore would not be interesting, if one 
had not perceived in them occasional symp- 
toms of such a peril. There has not been 
a Frenchman or a Frenchwoman — save a 
few harmless and perhaps nervous the- 
orizers — who has wavered about the mili- 
tary policy of the country; but there have 
naturally been some who have found it less 
easy than they could have foreseen to live 
up to the sacrifices it has necessitated. Of 
course there have been such people: one 



224 FIGHTING FRANCE 

would have had to postulate them if they 
had not come within one's experience. 
There have been some to whom it was 
harder than they imagined to give up a 
certain way of living, or a certain kind of 
breakfast-roll; though the French, being 
fundamentally temperate, are far less the 
slaves of the luxuries they have invented 
than are the other races who have adopted 
these luxuries. 

There have been many mere who found 
the sacrifice of personal happiness — of all 
that made life livable, or one's country 
worth fighting for — infinitely harder than 
the most apprehensive imagination could 
have pictured. There have been mothers 
and widows for whom a single grave, or 
the appearance of one name on the missing 
list, has turned the whole conflict into an 
idiot's tale. There have been many such; 
but there have apparently not been enough 
to deflect by a hair's breadth the subtle 
current of public sentiment; unless it is 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 225 

truer, as it is infinitely more inspiring, to 
suppose that, of this company of blinded 
baffled sufferers, almost all have had the 
strength to hide their despair and to say 
of the great national effort which has lost 
most of its meaning to them: "Though it 
slay me, yet will I trust in it." That is 
probably the finest triumph of the tone of 
France: that its myriad fiery currents flow 
from so many hearts made insensible by 
suffering, that so many dead hands feed its 
undying lamp. 

This does not in the least imply that 
resignation is the prevailing note in the 
tone of France. The attitude of the French 
people, after fourteen months of trial, is 
not one of submission to unparalleled ca- 
lamity. It is one of exaltation, energy, 
the hot resolve to dominate the disaster. 
In all classes the feeling is the same: every 
word and every act is based on the resolute 
ignoring of any alternative to victory. The 
French people no more think of a compro- 



226 FIGHTING FRANCE 

mise than people would think of facing a 
flood or an earthquake with a white flag. 

Two questions are likely to be put to 
any observer of the struggle who risks 
such assertions. What, one may be asked, 
are the proofs of this national tone? And 
what conditions and qualities seem to min- 
ister to it? 

The proofs, now that "the tumult and 
the shouting dies," and civilian life has 
dropped back into something like its usual 
routine, are naturally less definable than 
at the outset. One of the most evident is 
the spirit in which all kinds of privations 
are accepted. No one who has come in 
contact with the work-people and small 
shop-keepers of Paris in the last year can 
fail to be struck by the extreme dignity 
and grace with which doing without things 
is practised. The Frenchwoman leaning in 
the door of her empty boutique still wears 
the smile with which she used to calm the 
impatience of crowding shoppers. The seam- 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 227 

stress living on the meagre pay of a charity 
work-room gives her day's sewing as faith- 
fully as if she were working for full wages 
in a fashionable atelier, and never tries, by 
the least hint of private difficulties, to ex- 
tract additional help. The habitual cheer- 
fulness of the Parisian workwoman rises, 
in moments of sorrow, to the finest forti- 
tude. In a work-room where many women 
have been employed since the beginning 
of the war, a young girl of sixteen heard 
late one afternoon that her only brother 
had been killed. She had a moment of des- 
perate distress; but there was a big family 
to be helped by her small earnings, and the 
next morning punctually she was back at 
work. In this same work-room the women 
have one half-holiday in the week, without 
reduction of pay; yet if an order has to be 
rushed through for a hospital they give up 
that one afternoon as gaily as if they were 
doing it for their pleasure. But if any one 
who has lived for the last year among the 



228 FIGHTING FRANCE 

workers and small tradesmen of Paris 
should begin to cite instances of endurance, 
self-denial and secret charity, the list would 
have no end. The essential of it all is the 
spirit in which these acts are accomplished. 
The second question: What are the con- 
ditions and qualities that have produced 
such results? is less easy to answer. The 
door is so largely open to conjecture that 
every explanation must depend largely on 
the answerer's personal bias. But one thing 
is certain. France has not achieved her 
present tone by the sacrifice of any of her 
national traits, but rather by their extreme 
keying up; therefore the surest way of 
finding a clue to that tone is to try to single 
out whatever distinctively "French" char- 
acteristics — or those that appear such to 
the envious alien — have a direct bearing 
on the present attitude of France. Which 
(one must ask) of all their multiple gifts 
most help the French today to be what 
they are in just the way they are ? 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 229 

Intelligence! is the first and instantane- 
ous answer. Many French people seem un- 
aware of this. They are sincerely persuaded 
that the curbing of their critical activity 
has been one of the most important and 
useful results of the war. One is told that, 
in a spirit of patriotism, this fault-finding 
people has learned not to find fault. Noth- 
ing could be more untrue. The French* 
when they have a grievance, do not air it 
in the Times: their forum is the cafe and 
not the newspaper. But in the cafe they 
are talking as freely as ever, discriminat- 
ing as keenly and judging as passionately. 
The difference is that the very exercise of 
their intelligence on a problem larger and 
more difficult than any they have hitherto 
faced has freed them from the dominion of 
most of the prejudices, catch-words and 
conventions that directed opinion before 
the war. Then their intelligence ran in 
fixed channels; now it has overflowed its 
banks. 



230 FIGHTING FRANCE 

This release has produced an immediate 
readjusting of all the elements of national 
life. In great trials a race is tested by its 
values; and the war has shown the world 
what are the real values of France. Never 
for an instant has this people, so expert in 
the great art of living, imagined that life 
consisted in being alive. Enamoured of 
pleasure and beauty, dwelling freely and 
frankly in the present, they have yet kept 
their sense of larger meanings, have under- 
stood life to be made up of many things 
past and to come, of renunciation as well 
as satisfaction, of traditions as well as ex- 
periments, of dying as much as of living. 
Never have they considered life as a thing 
to be cherished in itself, apart from its re- 
actions and its relations. 

Intelligence first, then, has helped France 
to be what she is; and next, perhaps, one 
of its corollaries, expression. The French are 
the first to laugh at themselves for running 
to words: they seem to regard their gift 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 231 

for expression as a weakness, a possible 
deterrent to action. The last year has not 
confirmed that view. It has rather shown 
that eloquence is a supplementary weapon. 
By "eloquence" I naturally do not mean 
public speaking, nor yet the rhetorical 
writing too often associated with the word. 
Rhetoric is the dressing-up of conventional 
sentiment, eloquence the fearless expression 
of real emotion. And this gift of the fear- 
less expression of emotion — fearless, that 
is, of ridicule, or of indifference in the 
hearer — has been an inestimable strength 
to France. It is a sign of the high average 
of French intelligence that feeling well- 
worded can stir and uplift it; that "words" 
are not half shamefacedly regarded as 
something separate from, and extraneous 
to, emotion, or even as a mere vent for it, 
but as actually animating and forming it. 
Every additional faculty for exteriorizing 
states of feeling, giving them a face and a 
language, is a moral as well as an artistic 



232 FIGHTING FRANCE 

asset, and Goethe was never wiser than 
when he wrote: 

"A god gave me the voice to speak my pain." 

It is not too much to say that the French 
are at this moment drawing a part of their 
national strength from their language. The 
piety with which they have cherished and 
cultivated it has made it a precious instru- 
ment in their hands. It can say so beauti- 
fully what they feel that they find strength 
and renovation in using it; and the word 
once uttered is passed on, and carries the 
same help to others. Countless instances of 
such happy expression could be cited by 
any one who has lived the last year in 
France. On the bodies of young soldiers 
have been found letters of farewell to their 
parents that made one think of some 
heroic Elizabethan verse; and the mothers 
robbed of these sons have sent them an 
answering cry of courage. 

"Thank you," such a mourner wrote me 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 233 

the other day, "for having understood the 
cruelty of our fate, and having pitied us. 
Thank you also for having exalted the 
pride that is mingled with our unutterable 
sorrow." Simply that, and no more; but 
she might have been speaking for all the 
mothers of France. 

When the eloquent expression of feeling 
does not issue in action — or at least in a 
state of mind equivalent to action — it 
sinks to the level of rhetoric; but in France 
at this moment expression and conduct 
supplement and reflect each other. And this 
brings me to the other great attribute 
which goes to making up the tone of France: 
the quality of courage. It is not uninten- 
tionally that it comes last on my list. 
French courage is courage rationalized, 
courage thought out, and found necessary 
to some special end; it is, as much as any 
other quality of the French temperament, 
the result of French intelligence. 

No people so sensitive to beauty, so 



234 FIGHTING FRANCE 

penetrated with a passionate interest in 
life, so endowed with the power to express 
and immortalize that interest, can ever 
really enjoy destruction for its own sake. 
The French hate "militarism." It is stu- 
pid, inartistic, unimaginative and enslaving ; 
there could not be four better French rea- 
sons for detesting it. Nor have the French 
ever enjoyed the savage forms of sport 
which stimulate the blood of more apa- 
thetic or more brutal races. Neither prize- 
fighting nor bull-fighting is of the soil in 
France, and Frenchmen do not settle their 
private differences impromptu with their 
fists: they do it, logically and with delibera- 
tion, on the duelling-ground. But when a 
national danger threatens, they instantly 
become what they proudly and justly call 
themselves — "a warlike nation " — and ap- 
ply to the business in hand the ardour, 
the imagination, the perseverance that 
have made them for centuries the great 
creative force of civilization. Every French 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 235 

soldier knows why he is fighting, and why, 
at this moment, physical courage is the first 
quality demanded of him; every French- 
woman knows why war is being waged, 
and why her moral courage is needed to 
supplement the soldier's contempt of death. 
The women of France are supplying 
this moral courage in act as well as in word. 
Frenchwomen, as a rule, are perhaps less 
instinctively "courageous," in the elemen- 
tary sense, than their Anglo-Saxon sisters. 
They are afraid of more things, and are 
less ashamed of showing their fear. The 
French mother coddles her children, the 
boys as well as the girls : when they tumble 
and bark their knees they are expected to 
cry, and not taught to control themselves 
as English and American children are. I 
have seen big French boys bawling over a 
cut or a bruise that an Anglo-Saxon girl 
of the same age would have felt compelled 
to bear without a tear. Frenchwomen are 
timid for themselves as well as for their 



236 FIGHTING FRANCE 

children. They are afraid of the unex- 
pected, the unknown, the experimental. It 
is not part of the Frenchwoman's training 
to pretend to have physical courage. She 
has not the advantage of our discipline in 
the hypocrisies of "good form" when she 
is called on to be brave, she must draw 
her courage from her brains. She must first 
be convinced of the necessity of heroism; 
after that she is fit to go bridle to bridle 
w r ith Jeanne d'Arc. 

The same display of reasoned courage is 
visible in the hasty adaptation of the 
Frenchwoman to all kinds of uncongenial 
jobs. Almost every kind of service she has 
been called to render since the war be- 
gan has been fundamentally uncongenial. 
A French doctor once remarked to me 
that Frenchwomen never make really good 
sick-nurses except when they are nursing 
their own people. They are too personal, 
too emotional, and too much interested 
in more interesting things, to take to the 



THE TONE OF FRANCE 237 

fussy details of good nursing, except when 
it can help some one they care for. Even 
then, as a rule, they are not systematic or 
tidy; but they make up for these deficien- 
cies by inexhaustible willingness and sym- 
pathy. And it has been easy for them to 
become good war-nurses, because every 
Frenchwoman who nurses a French soldier 
feels that she is caring for her kin. The 
French war-nurse sometimes mislays an in- 
strument or forgets to sterilize a dressing; 
but she almost always finds the consoling 
word to say and the right tone to take 
with her wounded soldiers. That profound 
solidarity which is one of the results of 
conscription flowers, in war-time, in an 
exquisite and impartial devotion. 

This, then, is what " France is like." 
The whole civilian part of the nation 
seems merged in one symbolic figure, carry- 
ing help and hope to the fighters or pas- 
sionately bent above the wounded. The de- 
votion, the self-denial, seem instinctive; 



238 FIGHTING FRANCE 

but they are really based on a reasoned 
knowledge of the situation and on an un- 
flinching estimate of values. All France 
knows today that real "life" consists in 
the things that make it worth living, and 
that these things, for France, depend on 
the free expression of her national genius. 
If France perishes as an intellectual light 
and as a moral force every Frenchman 
perishes with her; and the only death that 
Frenchmen fear is not death in the trenches 
but death by the extinction of their national 
ideal. It is against this death that the whole 
nation is fighting; and it is the reasoned 
recognition of their peril which, at this 
moment, is making the most intelligent 
people in the world the most sublime. 

THE END 



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